I was recently at the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology conference, where I sat in on a meeting of the Division of Animal Behavior. Dr. John Wingfield, Division Director of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Division of Integrative Organismal Systems, explained 3 new changes to the process of applying for research funding. These changes are things that researchers will have to do in order to apply for funding or in order to complete their obligations to the NSF after receiving funding. Researchers have to address these topics:
1) Bioeconomy We are now required to include a paragraph outlining how our research will support “bioeconomy”. The basic idea here is that you have to outline how your research will either create jobs, support existing jobs, or stimulate the economy. For example, research to slow or reverse the decline of a charismatic species may support the local tourism-related income.
2) Lay-person summary of results At the completion of an NSF funded research project, a short report summarizing the fundings of the project must be submitted. The summary should be in lay-terms, and is meant to complement the lay-person worded project description which is submitted when researchers apply for funding. This means that the public will be able to find a description of all NSF funded research, as well as a summary of their findings when the study is complete.
3) Data archival All applications must contain information on how the data collected during the project will be archived so it can be accessed again in the future. The data do not have to be made public, they simply have to be archived.
I’m particularly excited about the requirement for a lay-summary and the data archival requirement. The lay-summary means that results paid for by public funding will be made available to the public, hopefully in a language that is easily understandable. I think that this complements the open access journal movement well.
Currently, data archival does not need to be done publicly. I believe, however, that data archival requirements are aimed at preserving data for future analyses, and to promote data-sharing between researchers. I think this is wonderful. Our data are frequently paid for by public money and, sometimes, the lives of our study animals. We should feel obligated to get the maximum mileage out of every data point collected, and this is a good step in the right direction. As Dr. Wingfield pointed out, the community will have to have a discussion about how to best share our data and about how to determine authorship when shared data are being used, but I think that this is as good a time as any to begin this discussion.
Sorry if this post was a bit dry for non-scientists. I’m excited that the NSF is leading the way in some major reforms in how we share data amongst ourselves and with the public, so I couldn’t help but share my meeting notes.