The Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press has published a report exploring the benefits of the nation’s scientific collections. The report, a joint effort of 15 federal departments and agencies led by the Smithsonian and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), provides illustrative examples of the many ways federal scientific collections serve the nation, from vaccine development to earthquake preparedness.
While the report focuses on federal collections, it also serves as a guide for other museums, universities, research institutions and industries. The publication offers evidence-based methods for measuring the benefits of scientific collections against the costs of maintaining them.
The report, Economic Analyses of Federal Scientific Collections: Methods for Documenting Costs and Benefits, was commissioned by the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections (IWGSC), part of the White House National Science and Technology Council. IWGSC is co-chaired by the Smithsonian and USDA.
“Although the report is focused on federal scientific collections, its content applies to myriad collections and leads to many public benefits,” said Scott Miller, Smithsonian chief scientist and IWGSC co-chair. “The report is especially timely given the economic stress on research and organizations because of COVID-19.”
Federal scientific collections are diverse and immense. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History alone has more than 146 million specimens and samples in its collections, acquired from the oceans to outer space––including plants, animals and insects; rocks, minerals and meteorites; and fossils and human artifacts.
Institutions like the Smithsonian preserve these vast collections for research, education and public outreach. They offer a wide variety of benefits for the nation, from insurance against future emergencies to the development of new technologies. Examples from the report highlight how USDA’s collections of agricultural pests help protect the U.S. food supply, or how a bacteria sample from a national park provided the basis for a major biotechnology breakthrough.
The authors note that demonstrating the long-term value of scientific collections can help institutions preserve these vital services for the future.
“USDA’s agricultural collections are some of the largest and most diverse in the world,” said Dionne Toombs, director of USDA’s Office of the Chief Scientist and IWGSC co-chair. “We are proud to be stewards of these valuable resources that ensure the preservation, diversity and safety of these collections for current and future generations.”
The report and related resources can be accessed at https://iwgsc.nal.usda.gov/economic-analyses-federal-scientific-collections. The full press release, including a contact for the media, can be found at: https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/releases/report-highlights-long-term-benefits-scientific-collections