A Story About Open Data (and Snow)

Open access to publicly-funded research accelerates discovery and progress

By Jen Caltrider, Global Campaigner, Mozilla

It’s Tax Day. Let me tell you a story about my buddy Erik, snow, your taxes, and open data.

Here in Colorado where I live, people love snow. It fuels our fun, our economy, and keeps our forests from bursting into flames. Knowing when the best snow will fall on our many mountains is an obsession for people like my friend Erik, who likens a good “powder day” to winning the lottery.

Here’s where things get interesting.

Our taxes — mine, yours, everyone’s — make it possible for powder hounds all across the country to know when and where the best snow will fall. Erik uses a website called Open Snow to track down the best powder. It sounded interesting, so I looked into it.

I found a quote from the guy who runs Open Snow on a blog post that stood out:

“98% of the data I use to make forecasts is freely available online and comes from government agencies. The US operates under the thought process that since the American people paid for the weather infrastructure with their tax dollars, the resulting data should be free.”

What’s all this have to do with Mozilla? We are strong supporters of what the Open Snow guy references above — open data. Our tax dollars go to publicly fund scientific research — from weather satellites, to medical technologies that save lives, to information that helps farmers grow our food. The public should have full, open access to this research, free of cost and available online. I mean, we’ve already paid for it, right?

Unfortunately, a great deal of publicly-funded data isn’t available the way the weather data that powers Open Snow is available. As a result, entrepreneurs, researchers and the public don’t have the information they need to support our communities.

We’re fighting to keep data from research funded with our tax dollars out from behind expensive paywalls — and we need your support. Please go sign the petition in support at IHeartOpenData.org.

Using publicly funded data to help people like my buddy Erik find the best powder to ski is fun (and good for the economy). Using publicly funded data to save lives with weather forecasts, medical technologies, and traffic information has the potential to make our world a much better place.