Mike the Mad Biologist

Doug Natelson raises a good question about when data should be made publicly available:

How much public funding triggers the need to make something publicly available? For example, suppose I used NSF funding to buy a coaxial cable for $5 as part of project A. Then, later on, I use that coax in project B, which is funded at the $100K level by a non-public source. I don’t think any reasonable person would then argue that all of project B’s results should become public domain because of 0.005% public support. When does the obligation kick in?

This is actually a fairly common problem in microbial genomics. Often one grant, with very different public release requirements (i.e., at publication) will fund the collection of bacterial strains and patient information, while the genomics funding can require rapid release–along with the other information, since a genome by itself (or a species name) isn’t worth that much (e.g., you might want to know if the bacterium come from a sick or healthy person). This isn’t a trivial problem as the collection/patient information study often ‘stands alone’: you might be comparing Staphylococcus aureus from hospital patients and healthy volunteers, and have collected some preliminary data, such as antibiotic resistance patterns and some basic genetic information. You can’t give that away before publication.

It gets more complicated when private funders are involved–they too might want to hold the genomic data back until the other data are published for their own institutional reasons, and here there is no public obligation to release data rapidly.

Then, other projects involve samples and data from other countries. That’s what the Sixth Fleet is for. WINNING! Lots of fun can be had with two countries’ funding agencies release policies.

So, what’s the solution?

Hell if I know. Make genomes really cheap and fast I guess….