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The Presidents and Presidents-Elect of the American Society of Mammalogists, the American Ornithological Society, and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists published a letter of support for the Biological Survey Unit (BSU) of the United States Geologic Survey and expressing concern over the proposal to eliminate it in the 2018 budget. The BSU is housed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Read the full letter here.

[26 Feb 2018]

Robert Gropp, co-Executive Director of the American Institute for Biological Sciences, recently published an editorial in BioScience that not only argues for the maintenance of current biological collections, but emphasizes the importance of continuing to collect.

He goes on to announce, the future needs of natural-history collections, as well as their potential future uses in research and education, are among the issues being addressed by the Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN), a National Science Foundation–funded research coordination network project. BCoN is in the process of organizing a workshop to be held later in 2018 to explore potential research opportunities arising from digitized collections. BCoN will solicit advice from the scientific community in the next few months about other issues that will shape future research opportunities associated with biodiversity collections. If you have ideas or wish to contribute to these discussions, please join the BCoN community at

Read the full editorial here.

[17 Jan 2018]

User facilities - from research facilities housing specialized equipment, to repositories and field stations that house physical collections - and their government sponsors stand to benefit from improved acknowledgement of their use and a better understanding of the impact generated by work undertaken with their support.

Following this premise, ORCID and their User Facilities and Publications Working Group recently released a report on their investigation into how user facilities, publishers, and scholarly infrastructure providers can collaborate to streamline the sharing of information between researchers, user facilities, and publishers, to improve the capture of outputs from these facilities, and to lessen reporting burdens on researchers.

A summary of the report was published on the ORCID blog and the report can be found at this link

[19 Dec 2017]

Following the very public request for assistance to save collections marked for removal from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, this Nature Editorial discuses how regional hubs may offer lifelines to natural history collections facing dire straits.

[12 Apr 2017]

The University of Louisiana at Monroe is the most recent example of budget cuts leading to the divesting of collections. Several news outlets covered this announcement this week, Inside Higher Ed's story covers the original post and responses from the administration.

[31 Mar 2017]
Principles promote access to Federal government-supported scientific data and research findings for international scientific cooperation

This article is a reprint of an original article posted on the White House blog, 6 January 2017. The original post can be found here.(link is external)

Openly accessible scientific data can be a powerful catalyst in international scientific collaboration. To inform and improve consistency among Federal departments and agencies on open scientific data sharing in support of international scientific cooperation, the Interagency Working Group on Open Data Sharing Policy released a report describing Principles for Promoting Access to Federal Government-Supported Scientific Data and Research Findings Through International Scientific Cooperation.  The working group, which reports to the Subcommittee on International Issues established under the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Science, includes representatives from Federal science agencies involved in international scientific collaboration. The principles demonstrate the United States’ commitment to increasing access to unclassified scientific data generated by Federal agencies or resulting from Federally funded research (“government-supported scientific data”) to further international cooperation in science and technology to address global challenges.

The principles apply to government-supported scientific data, which can include primary data (e.g., observations and measurements) and derived data (resulting from computations performed on the primary data), together with accompanying metadata that exist in digital form. The principles also summarize how U.S. policies apply to publications that result from Federally funded scientific research. As appropriate, the seven principles are summarized below:

  1. Scientific progress and collaboration benefit from an early and continuing commitment to the establishment, description, curation, maintenance, validation, discoverability, accessibility, and distribution of scientific data.
  2. Scientific data should be openly accessible to the extent permitted by law and subject to privacy, confidentiality, security, and other appropriate restrictions (e.g., recognizing proprietary interests, business confidential information, and intellectual property rights).
  3. Government-supported scientific data should be available without charge whenever feasible.
  4. Partners in international science and technology cooperative activities should establish a data management plan at project initiation that considers the full data lifecycle for scientific data.
  5. Federal agencies should encourage technical and legal interoperability to facilitate international sharing of scientific data, using compatible, publicly available and open source formats.
  6. Government-supported scientific data (and publications) should be made openly available as early as possible, with the timing of release and the duration of any exclusive-use period explicitly defined.
  7. Federal agencies should work with international science and technology partners to adopt policies and data standards that encourage open sharing of data for collaborative activities.

While these principles do not establish new policy positions, they summarize principles that are articulated in recent policy documents, including: Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Open Government Directive; Executive Order 13642: Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information; OMB Memorandum on Open Data Policy–Managing Information as an Asset (M-13-13); OMB Circular A-130; OSTP Memorandum on Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research; and U.S. Open Data Action Plan. They are written to be consistent with existing requirements for protecting national security, privacy, confidentiality, and other appropriate restrictions.

In addition, the principles reinforces data sharing conventions adopted by the broader international scientific community including, the G8 Open Data Charter; the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Principles and Guidelines for Access to Research Data from Public Funding; and the Group on Earth Observation System of Systems Data Sharing Principles.

These principles come at an opportune time. The U.S. science agencies are actively implementing public access policies to increase access to digital data and scholarly publications resulting from funded research. And in December 2016, the Open Government Partnership meeting held a global summit in Paris that featured a session led by the United States and other governments as well as civil society advocates to discuss progress in access to scientific and educational resources. Several international organizations are examining policies and practices for scientific data sharing, following high-level statements in support of open science from the G7G20, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). A newly established G7 Open Science Working Group met in early November to begin developing an action plan for open science that may address issues of human resources, infrastructure, and incentive structures for improved data sharing among scientists. The OECD’s Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy is preparing to launch a series of studies over the next two years that will assess the policy implications of the digitization of science, technology, and innovation. 

Increasing access to scientific data and research findings generated by Federal agencies or resulting from Federally funded research remains a U.S. policy priority.  Science stands to benefit greatly from optimal, international exchanges of data, information, and knowledge. Federal departments and agencies are encouraged to rely on the principles issued today when promoting U.S. policies for open scientific data, scientific data sharing, and increased access to scientific data in the context of U.S. international science and technology cooperation and other international fora. 


Mahlet Mesfin is Assistant Director for International Science and Technology for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Jerry Sheehan is Assistant Director for Scientific Data and Information for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Mark Paese is Deputy Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information Services for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and served as co-chair of the Interagency Working Group on Open Data Sharing Policy.

[06 Jan 2017]
​Federal agencies have taken steps to improve the management and accessibility of scientific collections


This article is a reprint of an original article posted on the White House blog, 9 December 2016. The original post can be found here.

Scientific collections—collections of physical specimens such as animal and plant specimens and their tissue and DNA, microbes, geological minerals and moonrocks, even air and water samples—are a vital part of the infrastructure for science in the United States and globally. They also play important roles in supporting public health and safety, agriculture, homeland security, trade and economic development, medical research, and environmental monitoring. Federal departments and agencies own and maintain hundreds of diverse scientific collections, many of which are being used for applications beyond their original use. Many of these collections grow at regular, predictable rates, and all require ongoing maintenance to preserve their value and utility.

To improve access to information about these collections and expand opportunities for their use, Federal agencies participating in the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections (IWGSC) are cataloging their scientific collections in a newly established Registry of U.S. Federal Scientific Collections (USFSC) managed by the Smithsonian Institution.

The registry provides unprecedented access to information about the scientific collections that are owned and operated by Federal departments and agencies. It currently contains information about more than 125 scientific collections managed by more than 475 Federal institutions, and agencies will continue to add collections to the registry over the coming months. Among the collections already listed are:

  • The National Pollinating Insects Collection, which contains georeferenced specimen data from 1.2 million insects. It was essential for identifying which bumble bee species have experienced precipitous declines and for monitoring species abundance.
  • The National Animal Germplasm Program collection, which consists of 885,000 germplasm samples from 44,400 animals: livestock, poultry, aquatic species and insects. It provides a secure backup of genetic resources in the event of catastrophic events. It is a source of genetic variability readily available to reintroduce genetic variation into specific populations and to provide researchers with genomic material for a wide array of experimentation.
  • USDA’s Soil Sample Archive contains over 212,000 soil samples with associated analytical data and site metadata. It is playing an essential role in developing mid-infrared spectrometry techniques that farmers can use for rapidly identifying the soil properties that guide decisions about irrigation and fertilizer application. It is also used as to develop a method for identifying hydric soils that do not develop the color patterns typically used to identify wetland soils.
  • The thousands of samples of natural wood and wood from archaeological and other sites on National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife lands are housed for the Department of the Interior bureaus at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona. Research on these archaeological and biological specimens focus on environmental change and long-term human interaction with their environment.
  • Archaeological collections at the Bureau of Land Management Anasazi Heritage Center in Colorado have been subjected to chemical isotope analysis to understand how people’s access to food changed over time as human populations grew—work that has implications for managing resources today.
  • The U.S. National Herbarium in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History is used primarily for research on taxonomy, systematic biology and ecology. It is also proving useful for other research needs: lichens collected more than a century ago have proved to be a unique source of historical information on airborne pollutants, including lead.
  • The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Department of Health and Human Services has a repository of close to 1 million samples from the civilian non-institutionalized population dating back to 1988. More than 100 studies have been conducted to-date using these samples.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs Biorepository Brain Bank contains post-mortem brain specimens from veterans with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). It is one of the largest resources of ALS brain/central nervous system in the world and has been used for numerous projects to help bring an end to this terrible disease.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s 30 year collection of specimens from marine animals contains samples from marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles, coral and coral ecosystems. It has been used to determine geographical and temporal trends of contaminant concentrations in marine species throughout the coastal U.S. The collection provides baseline levels of environmental compounds and trace elements for quality assurance purposes, and contributes to establishing nation-wide baseline levels of contaminants for animal health evaluations.

In addition to making these collections easier to find, Federal departments and agencies have also taken steps to improve the management of these and other Federal scientific collections, to help ensure they will remain viable and expand as needed to support future research and agency missions. Following guidelines developed by the IWGSC, more than a dozen Federal departments and agencies have developed policies specifying approaches for managing their institutional collections, meaning the sets of objects collected and preserved for research, analysis and other aspects of their organizational missions. Several more agency policies are being finalized. Completed policies are posted on the IWGSC clearinghouse.

The launch of the Registry and the development of agency policies for scientific collections represent significant steps in improving the management and utility of Federal scientific collections. These accomplishments are responsive to directives from both Congress and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Based on recommendations included in the IWGSC’s landmark report, Scientific Collections: Mission-Critical Infrastructure for Federal Science Agencies, these directives called for agencies to develop policies for the management, budgeting, and use of Federal scientific collections and establish an online clearinghouse for information on the contents of and access to Federal scientific collections.

In coming months, agencies will add more collections to the Registry, and more agencies will complete their collections policies. The IWGSC also plans to find ways to strengthen the contributions of Federal scientific collections to priority areas of national interest, such as emerging infectious diseases, food security, soil healthmicrobiome research, and open science. It will seek opportunities for greater coordination internationally among institutions that maintain scientific collections. These are among the tasks the IWGSC will continue to pursue as it continues its efforts to maximize the returns from the Federal investment in important scientific collections.


Jerry Sheehan is Assistant Director for Scientific Data and Information at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

David Schindel is Chair of the Board of Scientific Collections International and Executive Secretary of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, both based at the Smithsonian Institution.

Scott Miller is Deputy Under Secretary for Collections and Interdisciplinary Support at the Smithsonian Institution and co-chair of the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections.

Ann Bartuska is Deputy Under Secretary for USDA's Research, Education, and Economics mission area and co-chair of the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections.
(link is external)

[09 Dec 2016]

The  National Science Foundation (NSF) recently placed its Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR) Program on hiatus.

A news article in Nature examined the need to protect scientific collections as essential resources for ongoing research across disciplines, from conservation work to disease prevention.

[22 Mar 2016]

Growing alarm about the state of reproducibility in biomedical research has scientists and journal editors double-checking their work.

The Economist highlighted recent efforts to address reproducibility in both biomedical and psychology papers, including the Preclinical Reproducibility and Robustness Channel launched on February 4th to tackle the issue head-on

[22 Feb 2016]

When public health officials become aware of the first signs of a disease outbreak, they need to determine a few critical things as quickly as possible. What’s the disease agent? How did it get here? How does it spread and how can it be contained? Has it been seen before? If so, what was the approach and how well did it work?

IWGSC member Diane DiEuliis and colleagues recently published an opinion piece on the roll of collections in infectious disease research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

[29 Jan 2016]