NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Who Owns Federally-Subsidized Research?

April 6, 1999

Problems arise when the government get into funding scientific research. One of the latest issues to cause lawmakers headaches is whether scientific results arising from federal projects should be made available to the public.

A federal law intended to make that happen has triggered loud and angry opposition from the scientific community. Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) says he sponsored the bill -- which passed last year -- after he was refused access to data on which Harvard School of Public Health studies were based that the Environmental Protection Agency used to develop controversial new air pollution regulations.

  • Scientists and institutions they work for complain that the law will add to the cost of research, will be used to harass and intimidate researchers whose work angers powerful interest groups, and could expose their work to potential academic and commercial competitors.
  • But Shelby contends that taxpayers have a right of access to research they have spent billions of dollars supporting.
  • He adds that any research "ought to be able to be defended, if it's worth publishing, if it's worth making policies over."
  • The Office of Management and Budget has made an initial attempt to draft regulations based on the new law -- narrowing its scope to apply only to published research and to research that is used as the basis of making federal policy or rules.

That doesn't satisfy opponents of the law -- which works in conjunction with the Freedom of Information Act -- who claim it cannot be tinkered into better shape. Some lawmakers are now trying to repeal it.

Source: John Schwartz, "Research Law Fight: Right to Know, or to Squelch?" Washington Post, April 5, 1999.


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