Open Federal Science Drives Progress on Alzheimer's Disease

Discussions of government transparency often involve cover-ups, shady dealings, or attempts to reveal official wrongdoing. Sometimes, though, it’s about what government does right: when federal agencies produce valuable information with taxpayer dollars, it should be open so that the public can use and benefit from it.

That idea is illustrated dramatically in a recent New York Times story about the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, a project to develop better tools to diagnose Alzheimer’s. The Initiative was launched in 2003 by federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, along with academics, private companies, and non-profit organizations.

The Initiative’s exciting progress has been made possible by broad public-private collaboration – and by openly sharing the research:

The key to the Alzheimer’s project was an agreement as ambitious as its goal: not just to raise money, not just to do research on a vast scale, but also to share all the data, making every single finding public immediately, available to anyone with a computer anywhere in the world.

The participants’ skepticism about such transparency was, thankfully, overcome by the promise of the project:

“We weren’t sure, frankly, how it would work out having data available to everyone,” [Dr. Neil S. Buckholtz of the National Institute on Aging] said. “But we felt that the good that could come out of it was overwhelming. And that’s what’s happened.”

Now there’s an idea worth sharing.


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