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National Science Foundation Pushes to Make More Research Public Faster

Most American science on education and child development is supported by taxpayers, but by the time that research makes it through peer review, much of it ends up behind academic journal paywalls. 

As part of a 2013 White House initiative to speed up public access to research, the National Science Foundation on Wednesday released a plan to share data and results from NSF-funded studies. The new plan has the potential not only to help educators and policymakers find a broader array of research more quickly, but may make it easier for researchers across many education research areas to repeat and build on important findings. 

"Scientific progress depends on the responsible communication of research findings," said NSF Director France A. Córdova, in a statement. "NSF's public access plan is another effort we have undertaken to emphasize the agency's central mission to promote the progress of science."

Beginning in January 2016, any new research funded wholly or partially by NSF, or research conducted wholly or partly by NSF employees, must be made public as soon as possible, and no more than 12 months after publication. This is similar to U.S. Education Department rules, which since 2012 have required published studies to be submitted to its online public database within a year.

The new NSF rules will start with peer-reviewed journal articles, conference papers, and research data. The NSF noted that it later plans to extend the rules to include "technical reports, white papers, instructional materials, and other items." It would not include personally identifiable information.

Those that get a small-business research grant—as many education entrepreneurs do—would not have to release confidential business data but they would have to detail what was being withheld in a data plan submitted to the agency.

Critically, NSF lays out requirements to make it easier and cheaper for other researchers to replicate, validate, and expand on the findings. In addition to providing a simple copy of the article, for example, the researcher must also provide a record of the "metadata"—the definitions and labels that explain the data—and must ensure the data and resulting research is preserved for long-term use. In other words, no storing data on a postdoc's laptop! 

The agency is working on creating standards for metadata, search terms, and data-sharing protocols to make it easier to find data once it has been archived. Moreover, researchers will be allowed to include costs to share their data with other researchers as part of their grant proposal, offsetting some of the expenses of making huge data sets available.

If all this sounds pretty dry and technical, well, it is. But it could also go a long way to improving education research quality and relevance.

 

 

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