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CRISP-ER: Biodefense Transparency & Open Government Tool

by sunshine Saturday, Mar. 05, 2005 at 7:45 AM


The Sunshine Project

News Release - 4 March 2005

Sunshine Project Releases CRISP-ER

Open Government Tool Enhances Public Access to US Biodefense Program


(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


CRISP-ER ( 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


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."


CRISP-ER Example: NIAID Competitive Awards, Change Over 3 Years

Three year sums adjusted to constant 2005 USD



Disease(s) FY 1999-2001 FY 2002-2004 Change

BW Bacteria ,450,634 5,399,724 +2488%

BW Viruses ,941,136 9,856,911 +2017%

Influenza ,001,408 ,331,807 +219%

HIV 4,668,521 6,047,982 -20%

Tuberculosis 6,890,306 4,189,062 -20%

Hepatitis 9,438,806 ,063,452 -58%

Malaria ,207,407 ,401,748 -41%

Chlamydia ,395,364 ,185,593 -39%

Gonorrhea ,126,416 ,282,975 -53%

Candida albicans ,801,528 ,249,011 -51%

Chagas Disease ,672,725 ,494,681 -25%

Ehrlichiosis ,632,436 ,931,906 -48%

Whooping Cough ,014,340 ,877,179 -28%

Legionnaire's Disease ,397,997 ,416,099 -55%


"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:

---- 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


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).


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]

Thank you for your interest and happy searching!


Distributed via the Sunshine

Project Announcements List


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