Progress in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of public investment in basic scientific research and rapid sharing of data. The pandemic has also deepened existing inequality in the US and globally, which will require evidence-based policy-making to redress. The funding levels and policies included in reauthorization of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) will determine the role that NSF will play in addressing these inequalities.
The National Science Foundation for the Future Act was introduced in March by the US House Science Committee to “advanc[e] the United States academic research enterprise” by reducing burdens for researchers, and by connecting research to social outcomes. Today, the US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing on the Endless Frontier Act, which would add a technology directorate to the NSF—an idea that the Biden-Harris administration also included in its infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan. Both proposals would substantially increase NSF’s budget.
As these two bills are discussed, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) asks Congress to take into consideration the following recommendations on behalf of 125 of the largest research libraries in the United States and Canada. Libraries are key institutional partners in supporting research and publication, and in providing research data services.
The scale and focus of the NSF reauthorization proposals indicate that the US federal government views strengthening university-based research as foremost to improving US global leadership in scientific and technological innovation. As ARL member institutions received more than $4 billion in NSF funding in 2020, our members are critical investigators, collaborators, and partners in these research endeavors.
ARL supports and looks forward to working with federal agencies, institutional leadership, and the research community to reduce administrative burden on researchers while maintaining the security and integrity of fundamental research.
Research Integrity and Security
In legislative language, hearings, and debate on the legitimate concerns about US research security and intellectual property, particularly with respect to the Chinese government, ARL urges Congress to heed the condemnation of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance that the White House elucidated in a January executive order. We hope that the administration, too, will work with Congress to balance a significant investment in US research and development with a commitment to openness and collaboration, and transparent communication with the academic community about the risks to research integrity and security posed by undue foreign government influence. ARL acknowledges the leadership of the civil rights group Asian Americans Advancing Justice in holding the US government accountable for language that could cause harm.
Research Reproducibility and Replicability
On behalf of its members, ARL supports expanding public access to a broader range of research products, including software and code. Libraries and library staff have been essential partners at the institutional level for open research practices, by providing workshops, investing in and managing infrastructure, and contributing to local policies.
ARL further recommends expanding the promotion and requirement of research study preregistration, including as a required part of the merit-review process for funding, where discipline appropriate. Preregistration of a research study design, before data is collected, is a practice that (1) expands the discoverability of research because it includes unpublished studies in the scholarly record, and (2) addresses potential biases that interpretation of data can have on a published study’s stated objectives. Preregistration is required in clinical trials and has been successful in addressing both of these concerns.
Similarly, protocol registrations allow researchers to publish research procedures and methods, often in a machine-readable format. Practices such as preregistration and protocol registration are critical aspects of reporting that facilitate reuse and replication of research, and reduce inefficiencies in the research ecosystem. A consensus report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recommends and supports the use of these mechanisms to improve the rigor and reproducibility of research.
Data Management Plans
ARL is heartened to see Congress acknowledge the necessity of machine-readable data management plans (DMPs) and open repositories in supporting the academic research enterprise. At a National Science Foundation–funded conference on effective data practices in December 2019, ARL, along with the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the California Digital Library, convened stakeholders including university research officers, scientists, and librarians. Conference participants agreed that data management planning is important for sharing and use of research data and outputs. Participants suggested that the ability to update plans (“just in time”) across the project life cycle and as part of progress reporting would accelerate the value and adoption of DMPs among researchers, beyond what is required for compliance.
ARL encourages the development of a collaborative set of data repository criteria. Coordination among federal agencies will be necessary, as will stakeholder input from researchers, repository managers, librarians, and others. ARL looks forward to continuing these conversations and building upon work already underway within groups such as the Confederation of Open Access Repositories, the Research Data Alliance, and the World Data System.
ARL offers the following recommendations, which build on previous recommendations the Association made to the Office of Science and Technology Policy on the American research environment:
Zero-embargo public access to publications resulting from NSF-funded research
Public access to the results of research has been found to accelerate scientific advancements. To drive science forward we recommend that the NSF appropriations bill include policies for zero-embargo public access to publications.
Specific policies and funding for data curation of data sets produced from NSF-funded research
Curation includes activities and treatments taken across the life cycle of published data to ensure discoverability and ongoing preservation. Curation is necessary to ensure availability for reuse. Libraries, and library-led organizations such as the Data Curation Network, have provided critical human infrastructure for curating research data and advancing findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR) data.
Support for new models of open infrastructure and publication
ARL recommends that federal agencies provide maintenance funding and require maintenance plans for community-governed tools and services that enable: rapid dissemination, interlinking research through registries of persistent identifiers, data sharing, and collaboration to advance scientific progress. New modes of research publication enable: the publication of executable code and data alongside articles, the sharing of preprints with associated data and code, post-publication peer review through overlay journals, and collaboration and team science.
About the Association of Research Libraries
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in Canada and the US whose mission is to advance research, learning, and scholarly communication. The Association fosters the open exchange of ideas and expertise; advances diversity, equity, and inclusion; and pursues advocacy and public policy efforts that reflect the values of the library, scholarly, and higher education communities. ARL forges partnerships and catalyzes the collective efforts of research libraries to enable knowledge creation and to achieve enduring and barrier-free access to information. ARL is on the web at ARL.org.