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Re: Another way to look at proprietary periods
> 1. If the instrument is public, why isn't the data public?
The instrument is paid for with public funds. Does that make
it a "public" instrument? Well, the Space Shuttle program is paid
for with public funds. Why can't I just go for a ride on
the next flight? Yellowstone National Park is administered with
public funds. Why can't I drive up to one of their lodges
without a reservation and stay there as long as I like?
The University of California is paid for with public funds.
Why can't my kids attend all the classes they way for free?
> 2. Are we discouraging additional science that can be done with the
> data while it is kept private by the PI?
No, I don't think so. There is _usually_ no great need for
speed in the scientific process (although, as others have pointed
out, there may be such a need in the tenure process).
> To use your example, I could take the data and look for variable stars
> in the field. Maybe I find something interesting that the original
> astronomer had no intention of looking for. Instead of waiting a year,
> we can start studying it now, at no harm to the astronomer studying the
Actually, I've done this. I noticed several years ago that
HST had looked at a particular galaxy, NGC 2841, over and over
again in order to find Cepheids and measure its distance.
I thought, "Hey! Maybe this galaxy is close enough that one could
measure its distance a second way, by identifying the Tip of
the Red Giant Branch (TRGB)." The data was still available only to
the PI (Greg Bothun), so I wrote to him, and asked "Would you mind
if I used the data to look for the TRGB?" I explained that it
might provide an independent check on the distance to the galaxy.
Greg was very kind. He wrote back "Sure!", and gave me access
to the data. I worked on it for a while, and discovered that,
alas, the galaxy was just a BIT too far away for the Red Giant
stars to be visible (well, in any statistically meaningful way).
It turned out that other members of his group (especially Lucas
Macri) were already doing what I had in mind, and doing it
better, too. We all agreed that looking for the TRGB was a good
idea, but it just didn't work in this case.
When the group published their paper on the Cepheids in this galaxy
they were nice enough to add me to the author list. Thanks!
The moral of this little story is that proprietary periods
don't have to ruin Science. I had an idea for using some data which
complemented to the PI's idea. I asked nicely, we all worked together,
and the result was epsilon better than it would have been otherwise.