“Data! Data! Data! … I can’t make bricks without clay.” Sherlock Holmes exclaimed in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches (Arthur Conan Doyle)
A few weeks ago I was invited to the kick off meeting of a new effort in Fresno (CA) that tries to get together water people from academia, business and government agencies in order to develop a water tech hub in the Central Valley of California, taking advantage of the current knowledge about water infrastructure and technology that they already have and trying to enhance their economy highly dependent on water management. One of the main points that would characterize this endeavor will be water data releasing from public agencies and private firms in order to attract the attention of researchers in a clear win-win strategy where scientists will obtain raw material to research whereas the agencies and firms will get the results from these investigations, and the final benefits from better understanding of water, environmental and economics problems will impact in the whole society.
Even in this 21st century when we are witnesses of the Big Data boom in many fields related with public governance, water scientists have to deal with the problem of harvesting data to test their hypotheses as Dr. Maximilian Auffhammer pointed out clearly in this other blog.
The emphasis in data availability that the people from Fresno are proposing brought to my mind an episode happened a few months ago: I found a very interesting research done by a spanish public agency and totally completed and I got so excited that immediately contacted the authors of the research to try to get the data from the survey and as you might be expecting, they just answered me that they cannot share that data. I do not want to seem naive, and probably if they do not share the data they must have very good reasons because previous problems or because they are still exploiting the results from this dataset, but I am looking beyond this concrete event: in Spain (and in many other countries I guess) we are wasting many opportunities because the private treatment that we give to data that has been collected with public funding. I completely understand that it has to be a given time to the researchers that are collecting the data through surveys to complete their studies, but after this comprehensive period the data must be released publicly and furthermore it is necessary to make it easy to access and download it in order to multiply the potential benefits.
As an example of that the government of the United States has established some laws (or amendments to previous laws) as the so called Shelby Amendment to the Freedom of Information Act that “mandated the Office of Management and Budget (…) to require federal agencies to ensure that all data produced under a [federally funded] award will be made available to the public”. To the same conclusion arrived the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in a report released in 2006. As far as I know, the Spanish government does not have any law following the same concept, and just looking hard helped by google I found a short reference in the 2013-2020 Spanish Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy.
This is a very easy move, a small regulation modification that does not bother any politic party, and from these kind of small steps sometimes the world makes a jump ahead. And it is well known that we need some new fresh air right now in Spain… let’s breathe!