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October 21, 2023

Comments to the White House on Federal Data

A recent email went out:

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), on behalf of the Federal agencies and departments participating on the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Subcommittee on Scientific Integrity (the Subcommittee), is organizing two virtual listening sessions to hear from members of the public about recommendations, issues and concerns related to Federal department and agency implementation of the NSTC Framework for Federal Scientific Integrity Policy and Practice (the Framework).

If you cannot attend, you may submit written comments by email to ScientificIntegrityRFI@ostp.eop.gov with the subject line ‚ÄúScientific Integrity Policy Implementation Feedback.

Below are the short and sweet comments that I just submitted on behalf of the Good Science Project:

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Thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments on behalf of the Good Science Project, a think tank focused on improving federal science policy and funding.

The President’s 2021 Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking made it clear that all federal agencies (including NIH and NSF) should: 

  • Develop evidence-building plans and annual evaluation plans with a broad set of approaches for evidence-based policy, including RCTs and statistical analysis
  • “Expand open and secure access” to federal data that is routinely collected, including even “tax data” and “vital records,” so that “non-governmental researchers can use Federal data to assess and evaluate the effectiveness and equitable delivery of policies and to suggest improvements.”
  • Make that data “available by default in a machine-readable format”

The budgets of NIH and NSF together amount to nearly $60 billion in 2023, most of which is used to fund academic researchers and infrastructure related to their research projects. 

Yet, with few exceptions, NIH and NSF have been remarkably reluctant to allow outside researchers to access critical data on agency operations, such as peer review scores, unfunded proposals, program officer recommendations, and much more about how nearly $60 billion is allocated.

Without that data, expert policy researchers are unable to conduct studies on critical questions such as “how does high-risk, high-reward research fare in the NIH peer review process?”

Data on research proposals and peer review scores are nowhere near as confidential as “tax data” or “earnings data” that the White House 2021 Memorandum expressly mentioned as data that must be made readily available to external researchers. 

The White House should exert every effort to bring scientific funding agencies (such as NIH and NSF) into the 21st century with regards to allowing external researchers access to data.