NU students expand science database after Trump order restricting federal research findings

Daria Lenderman, Reporter

Open Science Database, a media platform founded by Northwestern Ph.D. students to make science research easily accessible to the general public, has expanded to include federally funded research and climate change findings. The moves follows the Trump administration’s recent order banning several government agencies from communicating with members of the public and press.

Northwestern Ph.D. students Suji Jeong and Alexandra Edelbrock co-founded the nonprofit organization in Fall 2016 as a platform to increase the public’s exposure to medical research.

“I published in journals but they are not accessible to the general public, and they are really hard to read,” Jeong said. “The public also has to pay money to buy the article to read it. My goal last fall was to make an easy-to-use, good user-friendly database.”

However, following Trump’s order, Open Science Database expanded to include information on climate change research and research from federally funded agencies. The ban went into effect Jan. 24 and includes groups such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Open Science Database acts as an advocate for federal employees who are unable to speak to the public about research findings by providing straightforward synopses of publically funded federal research, Jeong said. The organization’s contributors summarize findings from the EPA, USDA, National Parks Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others.

“(The order) is a little bit scary,” said Heather Kinkead, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University who contributes to the project. “People need to be able to talk about their research. People need to be able to explain these things. All of these things are connected and important, so when scientists aren’t able to share and report on these things it impacts everything.”

Students from institutions across the country volunteer to write summaries for the organization. Contributors use common terminology to simplify scientific information and improve comprehension outside of the scientific community, NU graduate student Jeremy Ritzert said .

“It is mainly translating work that people generally wouldn’t have access to or wouldn’t be able to understand all of the jargon,” Ritzert said. “My reasons for contributing aren’t so much politically aligned, although I care about the science being available to people.”

Kinkead said the research findings are valuable to people outside the research community and are necessary to understand new developments in any field.

“It is important … that the public in general knows what is happening with research,” Kinkead said. “Federal money is paying for it, and you want to know where that money is going and that something worthwhile is coming out of it.”

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