The track record and protocols for access to data in many countries tend to discourage use of the data. In various European and Asian countries, researchers' access to data is severely limited or unnecessarily costly in terms of time and/or money. Because of restricted access and the limited role of scientists in the design of surveys, scientific innovation in the collection of data is hampered. Moreover, many of the best scientists in these countries often choose to use data from other countries to test their ideas since it is too difficult to use their own national data.
The panel recognizes that all surveys involve legitimate and thorny issues of privacy and confidentiality that must be explicitly addressed and resolved. There are, however, statistical and legal methods for preserving confidentiality that can be used without unduly limiting scientific access to the data.
In summary, the enhanced scientific understanding needed to provide effective guidance for public policy in many countries will depend on the generation of longitudinal databases that contain representations of the critical sets of variables needed to model aging processes. The beginnings of such rich longitudinal and multidisciplinary data systems are available in the designs of various surveys mentioned throughout this report. While these are good models from which to start, what is clearly needed is a multinational version(s) of these models that takes account of differences in the nature and structure of institutions in both developed and developing countries.