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CRISP-ER: Biodefense Transparency & Open Government Tool

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The Sunshine Project
News Release - 4 March 2005
 http://www.sunshine-project.org

Sunshine Project Releases CRISP-ER
Open Government Tool Enhances Public Access to US Biodefense Program
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(Austin, 4 March) - Public access to information about
federally-sponsored research on biological weapons agents is unlikely
to ever be the same again. Not because the US government has reversed
its slide into secrecy; but because a non-governmental organization
has taken access into its own hands.

Today, the Sunshine Project has released CRISP-ER (Extended Results),
a new open government tool to search and organize research grant data
from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). CRISP-ER has far more
powerful capabilities than those offered by the government. While
CRISP-ER is optimized to research projects involving biological
weapons agents, it can be used by anyone with an interest in National
Institutes of Health research, for example, to research spending on
biotechnology, biodiversity, specific diseases, or in specific
locations.

CRISP-ER ( http://www.cbwtransparency.org/crisper) searches NIH's
Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects (CRISP)
database and joins the results with financial data from the NIH
Office of Extramural Research, a task that was previously virtually
impossible. In addition, CRISP-ER:

- Adds new search methods (simple search, agent search)
- Provides grant sums for specific years, diseases, institutions, etc.
- Provides clear, easy to read output
- Presents downloadable results for databases or spreadsheets

Drill-down to information about Institutional Biosafety Committees
and to convert grant amounts to 2005 dollars are also under
development.

CRISP-ER is a civil society response to the deteriorating state of
public access to information about US biomedical research,
particularly that involving potential biological weapons agents. Full
biodefense transparency is essential for safety, security, and
informed public discourse.

The system is intended to be a transparency inducement to NIH: "Our
goal is to show NIH how it can fulfill its pledges of openness" (see
below) says Sunshine Project Director Edward Hammond, "We're sorry if
CRISP-ER is embarrassing for NIH; but good government demands that
its functions be available to the public. It will be a happy day when
we shut CRISP-ER down because NIH has seen the light."

CRISP-ER has already proven its value. Referring to the ongoing
controversy over NIAID's biodefense program prompted by a protest
letter from more than 750 microbiologists, Hammond says "CRISP-ER
results demonstrate that NIH's own data supports the microbiologists'
charge that spending on high priority public health diseases is on
the decline. Double digit declines in NIAID grants, in fact, for many
important non-biodefense diseases."

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CRISP-ER Example: NIAID Competitive Awards, Change Over 3 Years
Three year sums adjusted to constant 2005 USD
See  http://www.cbwtransparency.org/crisper/crisper_preview.html
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Disease(s) FY 1999-2001 FY 2002-2004 Change
BW Bacteria $7,450,634 $185,399,724 +2488%
BW Viruses $5,941,136 $119,856,911 +2017%
Influenza $43,001,408 $94,331,807 +219%
HIV $534,668,521 $426,047,982 -20%
Tuberculosis $166,890,306 $134,189,062 -20%
Hepatitis $139,438,806 $59,063,452 -58%
Malaria $92,207,407 $54,401,748 -41%
Chlamydia $36,395,364 $22,185,593 -39%
Gonorrhea $23,126,416 $12,282,975 -53%
Candida albicans $20,801,528 $10,249,011 -51%
Chagas Disease $8,672,725 $6,494,681 -25%
Ehrlichiosis $5,632,436 $2,931,906 -48%
Whooping Cough $4,014,340 $2,877,179 -28%
Legionnaire's Disease $5,397,997 $2,416,099 -55%
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"The Sunshine Project is a very small organization and we're grateful
to those who helped us develop CRISP-ER," says Hammond, "It's
wonderful to be able to offer this powerful new tool free of charge.
CRISP-ER is far better than anything that NIH has to offer - at least
to the public."

CRISP-ER is online at the website of the Sunshine Project's
Bioweapons and Biodefense Freedom of Information Fund, URL:

 http://www.cbwtransparency.org/crisper

---- end release: CRISP-ER web info follows ----

More About CRISPER (from the website)

CRISPER is a new way to search and organize National Institutes of
Health (NIH) grant data. CRISPER pulls information from NIH's CRISP
database and pairs it with NIH financial data, providing
cleanly-formatted results with additional features that aren't
available anywhere else. No other public search tool puts as much
information at your fingertips about government-sponsored biological
research.

While CRISPER is optimized for searches related to research on
biological weapons agents, its features are also useful for anyone
interested in NIH biomedical programs. CRISPER is developed by the
Sunshine Project, a non-profit organization. CRISPER is available for
non-commercial use by any member of the public, free of charge. If
you find CRISPER helpful, please support its development by clicking
"Donate Now" (at left).

Why CRISPER ?

CRISPER is a multifaceted research tool for the public and public
interest organizations working on safety, security, health and
biomedical research issues. CRISPER is relevant to peace and
security, biosafety, public health, biodiversity, biotechnology, and
other fields. The financial information and search summaries
available in CRISPER have never before been available in a
publicly-accessible search tool.

Foremost, CRISPER promotes open government: At a time when access to
government information is declining, CRISPER stands for transparency
and public accountability in federally-sponsored scientific research,
particularly research involving biological weapons agents. All of the
information available through CRISPER is public record, however, the
government does not make it available in the same place or in
compatible formats. For example, pairing a CRISP abstract with its
associated financial data involves searching over 500 NIH files that
use nine distinct data formats. Institutional Biosafety Committee
(IBC) information (in development) has previously been available only
through the Freedom of Information Act.

By intelligently bringing together public records, CRISPER provides
unprecedented access to NIH research programs. Transparency and
accountability of these programs will encourage safety, security and
sound judgment in biomedical research.

The Future of CRISPER

CRISPER 1 was developed in two weeks by three people working
part-time with a budget of zero dollars. Providing the capabilities
of CRISPER to the public is thus well within the reach of a
government agency as large and capable as NIH. By demonstrating a
path to greater research transparency, CRISPER's goal is to put
itself out of business by prompting NIH to incorporate CRISPER's
capabilities into NIH's CRISP website.

NIH Director Zerhouni recently told the Washington Post that "We
can't lose the public trust. Not just at NIH, but into research in
general... I believe in candor as an instrument of leadership." NIAID
Director Anthony Fauci, in Science and on National Public Radio, has
recently called on people to look more carefully at NIH spending.
CRISPER allows people to do precisely that, and aims to show NIH a
way to make good on its eloquence about openness in research.

Having said that, few are unaware that government can move at the
speed of frozen molasses. While encouraging NIH to build CRISPER into
its website, the Sunshine Project will enhance CRISPER with new
functions and data as rapidly as possible.

To preserve the system's integrity while it is under development,
the CRISPER programming and website are copyrighted. Once CRISPER has
reached an appropriate level of maturity we will move to a Creative
Commons or similar license. Data returned by CRISPER is, of course,
unrestricted public record.

If you wish to support development of CRISPER, please make a
donation. If you have ideas about new functions or if you are
interested in volunteering your technical skills, please send us an
e-mail (tsp [at] sunshine-project.org).

Thank you for your interest and happy searching!

_______________________________________________
Distributed via the Sunshine
Project Announcements List
(See:  http://www.sunshine-project.org)