Data Friday: Government Data for a Fee?

Scanning the headlines of the newest issue of Science (you can sign up for the RSS even if you don’t have full access, I’m one of the blessed with access through work), I was disturbed to see this one:

Congress Asks NOAA to Consider Charging for Data

Science 9 December 2011:
Vol. 334 no. 6061 p. 1337
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6061.1337

The short version is that it costs NOAA a lot to gather the data that they have and it’s used by a lot of other governmental departments, though the raw figures usually need to be massaged in some way before it’s particularly useful. They also are proposing charging academic scientific consortiums for the data.

This could set a really bad data precedent. If one government agency begins to sell their data or have a pay-per-use format around access to it, that could be an extremely tempting model for other cash strapped agencies. And if the charge for use means also for the lab scientist, academic, and general tax payer who funding this data collection, that points us right back at a lot of the challenges that we’re currently struggling against right now, with research funded by federal grants that taxpayers cannot access because it’s behind proprietary paywalls.

The article points out that this was tried in the 1980s with Landsat Satellites and that usage of the data “plummeted.”

I do hope they can find a different path than pay-per-use. That’s a path I don’t want to go down.