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Open Economics: the story so far…

Velichka Dimitrova - August 30, 2013 in Advisory Panel, Announcements, Events, Featured, Open Data, Open Economics, Projects

A year and a half ago we embarked on the Open Economics project with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and we would like a to share a short recap of what we have been up to.

Our goal was to define what open data means for the economics profession and to become a central point of reference for those who wanted to learn what it means to have openness, transparency and open access to data in economics.

Advisory Panel of the Open Economics Working Group: openeconomics.net/advisory-panel/

Advisory Panel

We brought together an Advisory Panel of twenty senior academics who advised us and provided input on people and projects we needed to contact and issues we needed to tackle. The progress of the project has depended on the valuable support of the Advisory Panel.

1st Open Economics Workshop, Dec 17-18 ’12, Cambridge, UK: openeconomics.net/workshop-dec-2012/

2nd Open Economics Workshop, 11-12 June ’13, Cambridge, MA: openeconomics.net/workshop-june-2013

International Workshops

We also organised two international workshops, first one held in Cambridge, UK on 17-18 December 2012 and second one in Cambridge U.S. on 11-12 June 2013, convening academics, funders, data publishers, information professionals and students to share ideas and build an understanding about the value of open data, the still persisting barriers to opening up information, as well as the incentives and structures which our community should encourage.

Open Economics Principles

While defining open data for economics, we also saw the need to issue a statement on the openness of data and code – the Open Economics Principles – to emphasise that data, program code, metadata and instructions, which are necessary to replicate economics research should be open by default. Having been launched in August, this statement is now being widely endorsed by the economics community and most recently by the World Bank’s Data Development Group.

Projects

The Open Economics Working Group and several more involved members have worked on smaller projects to showcase how data can be made available and what tools can be built to encourage discussions and participation as well as wider understanding about economics. We built the award-winning app Yourtopia Italy – http://italia.yourtopia.net/ for a user-defined multidimensional index of social progress, which won a special prize in the Apps4Italy competition.

Yourtopia Italy: application of a user-defined multidimensional index of social progress: italia.yourtopia.net

We created the Failed Bank Tracker, a list and a timeline visualisation of the banks in Europe which failed during the last financial crisis and released the Automated Game Play Datasets, the data and code of papers from the Small Artificial Agents for Virtual Economies research project, implemented by Professor David Levine and Professor Yixin Chen at the Washington University of St. Louis. More recently we launched the Metametrik prototype of a platform for the storage and search of regression results in the economics.

MetaMetrik: a prototype for the storage and search of econometric results: metametrik.openeconomics.net

We also organised several events in London and a topic stream about open knowledge and sustainability at the OKFestival with a panel bringing together a diverse range of panelists from academia, policy and the open data community to discuss how open data and technology can help improve the measurement of social progress.

Blog and Knowledge Base

We blogged about issues like the benefits of open data from the perspective of economics research, the EDaWaX survey of the data availability of economics journals, pre-registration of in the social sciences, crowd-funding as well as open access. We also presented projects like the Statistical Memory of Brazil, Quandl, the AEA randomized controlled trials registry.

Some of the issues we raised had a wider resonance, e.g. when Thomas Herndon found significant errors in trying to replicate the results of Harvard economists Reinhart and Rogoff, we emphasised that while such errors may happen, it is a greater crime not to make the data available with published research in order to allow for replication.

Some outcomes and expectations

We found that opening up data in economics may be a difficult matter, as many economists utilise data which cannot be open because of privacy, confidentiality or because they don’t own that data. Sometimes there are insufficient incentives to disclose data and code. Many economists spend a lot of resources in order to build their datasets and obtain an advantage over other researchers by making use of information rents.

Some journals have been leading the way in putting in place data availability requirements and funders have been demanding data management and sharing plans, yet more general implementation and enforcement is still lacking. There are now, however, more tools and platforms available where researchers can store and share their research content, including data and code.

There are also great benefits in sharing economics data: it enables the scrutiny of research findings and gives a possibility to replicate research, it enhances the visibility of research and promotes new uses of the data, avoids unnecessary costs for data collection, etc.

In the future we hope to concentrate on projects which would involve graduate students and early career professionals, a generation of economics researchers for whom sharing data and code may become more natural.

Keep in touch

Follow us on Twitter @okfnecon, sign up to the Open Economics mailing list and browse our projects and resources at openeconomics.net.

Introducing the Open Economics Principles

Velichka Dimitrova - August 7, 2013 in Announcements, Featured

The Open Economics Working Group would like to introduce the Open Economics Principles, a Statement on Openness of Economic Data and Code. A year and a half ago the Open Economics project began with a mission of becoming central point of reference and support for those interested in open economic data. In the process of identifying examples and ongoing barriers for opening up data and code for the economics profession, we saw the need to present a statement on the guiding principles of transparency and accountability in economics that would enable replication and scholarly debate as well as access to knowledge as a public good.

We wrote the Statement on the Open Economics Principles during our First and Second Open Economics International Workshops, receiving feedback from our Advisory Panel and community with the aim to emphasise the importance of having open access to data and code by default and address some of the issues around the roles of researchers, journal editors, funders and information professionals.

Second Open Economics International Workshop, June 11-12, 2013

Second Open Economics International Workshop, June 11-12, 2013

Read the statement below and follow this link to endorse the Principles.


Open Economics Principles

Statement on Openness of Economic Data and Code

Economic research is based on building on, reusing and openly criticising the published body of economic knowledge. Furthermore, empirical economic research and data play a central role for policy-making in many important areas of our economies and societies.

Openness enables and underpins scholarly enquiry and debate, and is crucial in ensuring the reproducibility of economic research and analysis. Thus, for economics to function effectively, and for society to reap the full benefits from economic research, it is therefore essential that economic research results, data and analysis be openly and freely available, wherever possible.

  1. Open by default: by default data in its different stages and formats, program code, experimental instructions and metadata – all of the evidence used by economists to support underlying claims – should be open as per the Open Definition1, free for anyone to use, reuse and redistribute. Specifically open material should be publicly available and licensed with an appropriate open licence2.
  2. Privacy and confidentiality: We recognise that there are often cases where for reasons of privacy, national security and commercial confidentiality the full data cannot be made openly available. In such cases researchers should share analysis under the least restrictive terms consistent with legal requirements, abiding by the research ethics and guidelines of their community. This should include opening up non-sensitive data, summary data, metadata and code, and facilitating access if the owner of the original data grants other researchers permission to use the data
  3. Reward structures and data citation: recognizing the importance of data and code to the discipline, reward structures should be established in order to recognise these scholarly contributions with appropriate credit and citation in an acknowledgement that producing data and code with the documentation that make them reusable by others requires a significant commitment of time and resources. At minimum, all data necessary to understand, assess, or extend conclusions in scholarly work should be cited. Acknowledgements of research funding, traditionally limited to publications, could be extended to research data and contribution of data curators should be recognised.
  4. Data availability: Investigators should share their data by the time of publication of initial results of analyses of the data, except in compelling circumstances. Data relevant to public policy should be shared as quickly and widely as possible. Funders, journals and their editorial boards should put in place and enforce data availability policies requiring data, code and any other relevant information to be made openly available as soon as possible and at latest upon publication. Data should be in a machine-readable format, with well-documented instructions, and distributed through institutions that have demonstrated the capability to provide long-term stewardship and access. This will enable other researchers to replicate empirical results.
  5. Publicly funded data should be open: publicly funded research work that generates or uses data should ensure that the data is open, free to use, reuse and redistribute under an open licence – and specifically, it should not be kept unavailable or sold under a proprietary licence. Funding agencies and organizations disbursing public funds have a central role to play and should establish policies and mandates that support these principles, including appropriate costs for long-term data availability in the funding of research and the evaluation of such policies3, and independent funding for systematic evaluation of open data policies and use.
  6. Usable and discoverable: as simply making data available may not be sufficient for reusing it, data publishers and repository managers should endeavour to also make the data usable and discoverable by others; for example, documentation, the use of standard code lists, etc., all help make data more interoperable and reusable and submission of the data to standard registries and of common metadata enable greater discoverability.

See Reasons and Background: http://openeconomics.net/principles/.

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1. http://opendefinition.org/

2. Open licenses for code are those conformant with the Open Source Definition see http://opensource.org/licenses and open licenses for data should be conformant with the open definition, see http://opendefinition.org/licenses/#Data.

3. A good example of an important positive developments in this direction from the United States is http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/ostp_public_access_memo_2013.pdf

Open Access to Research Data: The European Commission’s consultation in progress

Velichka Dimitrova - July 9, 2013 in Featured, Open Access, Open Research

The European Commission held a public consultation on open access to research data on July 2 in Brussels inviting statements from researchers, industry, funders, IT and data centre professionals, publishers and libraries. The inputs of these stakeholders will play some role in revising the Commission’s policy and are particularly important for the ongoing negotiations on the next big EU research programme Horizon 2020, where about 25-30 billion Euros would be available for academic research. Five questions formed the basis of the discussion:

  • How we can define research data and what types of research data should be open?
  • When and how does openness need to be limited?
  • How should the issue of data re-use be addressed?
  • Where should research data be stored and made accessible?
  • How can we enhance “data awareness” and a “culture of sharing”?

Contributions from the researchers’ perspective emphasised that data, metadata and other documentation should be made available in order to be able to replicate the results of a research article and more data available means more scrutiny and getting more value out of the data. Furthermore, there is a need for pre-registration of studies in order to understand the full picture of a research field where e.g. negative results in the biomedical sciences (as well as many other fields) are not published. Then, this is also a need to have binding mechanisms e.g. required data management plans, better linkage between the research data and scientific publication with enforcement of data availability by journals, but also sustainable plans for making data available, where open access to data is formally a part of the research budget.

Searching and finding research data should be also made easier, as open access to data does not necessarily mean accessible data. There was also an emphasis that every contributor should be known and acknowledged and there is a need of establishing cultures around data sharing in different disciplines and “augmenting the scientific infrastructure to be technical, social and participatory” (Salvatore Mele, CERN).

There was some agreement that commercial data and data which can lead back to individuals should be kept closed but some aggregated data should be shared. Industry representatives (Philips Research, Federation of German Security and Defence Industries) argued for keeping some data closed, deciding on a case by case basis and having embargo periods on data produced in public-private partnerships in order to encourage investment.

Funders viewed research data as a public good, which should be managed and be discoverable, and encouraged open and better access to research data where research outputs are accessed and used in a way that maximises the public benefit. While there is a growing consensus about funder policies, these should be better implemented and enforced. Resources like – infrastructure, incentives and cultures, capacity and skills, ethics and governance – should be built and sustained in recognition of the different stages that different disciplines are currently at (some really good points made by David Carr, the Wellcome Trust).

The IT, data centre professionals and librarians spoke about the need to recognise the role of data scientists and data librarians, with appropriate funding and careers. While the value of data is often recognised later on and grows over time there is less of an understanding who would pay for the long-term preservation since few institutions can make indefinite commitments. A key component should be also proper training and the development of core skills in dealing with research data (where librarians can assist researchers in data management plans, bridging the gap in knowledge), as well as the proper citation rules and practices for data where career recognition can be linked to sharing of research data in order to boost incentives.

While the European Commission has been carrying the flag of open access, mandating open access to research publications funded by the last research and innovation programme FP7, there are larger hurdles on the road to open access to research data. While the EC’s communication “Towards better access to scientific information” reflects some commitment to open access to research data, there are many exceptions, e.g. privacy, trade secrets, national security, legitimate commercial interest, intellectual property, data resulting from a public-private partnership, etc. As Mireille van Echoud, professor of Information Law at IViR, stated at the Open Economics workshop in June, “any lawyer will find whatever argument they need to keep data from falling under an open access obligation”.

Look at some more detailed notes from Ian Mulvany and his presentation on the behalf of several publishers.

Second Open Economics International Workshop Recap

Velichka Dimitrova - July 5, 2013 in Events, Featured, Workshop

Open Knowledge Foundation, CIPIL, MIT Sloan. Supported by Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

On June 11-12, the Open Economics Working Group of the Open Knowledge Foundation organised the Second Open Economics International Workshop, hosted at the MIT Sloan School of Management, a second of two international workshops funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, aimed at bringing together economists and senior academics, funders, data publishers and data curators in order to discuss the progress made in the field of open data for economics and the still existing challenges. This post is an extended summary of the speakers’ input and some of the discussion. See the workshop page for more details.

Setting the Scene

The first panel addressed the current state of open data in economics research and some of the “not bad” practices in the area. Chaired by Rufus Pollock (Open Knowledge Foundation) the panel brought together senior academics and professionals from economics, science, technology and information science.

Eric von Hippel (MIT Sloan School of Management) talked about open consumer-developed innovations revealing that consumers actually innovate a lot to solve their needs as private users and while they are generally willing to let others adopt their innovations for free, they don’t actively invest in knowledge diffusion. As producers of findings, economists have high incentives to diffuse those, but as users of private research methods and data they have low or negative incentives to diffuse to rivals. Lower costs of diffusion, increasing the benefits from diffusion, more collaborative research processes and mandatory sharing are some of the ways to increase economists’ incentives to diffuse research methods and data as they diffuse findings. [See slides]

Micah Altman (MIT Libraries, Brookings Institution) stressed that best practices are often not “best” and rarely practiced thus preferred to discuss some probably “not bad” practices including policy practices for the dissemination and citation of data: e.g. that data citations should be treated as first-class objects of publication as well as reproducibility policies where more support should be given to publishing replications and registering studies. He emphasised that policies are often not self-enforcing or self-sustaining and compliance with data availability policies even in some of the best journals is very low. [See slides]

Shaida Badiee (Development Data Group, World Bank) shared the experience of setting the World Bank’s data free in 2010 and the exceptional popularity and impact the World Bank’s data has affected. To achieve better access, data is legally open – undiscriminating about the types of uses – given the appropriate user support, available in multiple languages, platforms and devices e.g. with API access, plug-ins for regression software, integration with external applications and mobile phones, etc. She reminded that data is as good as the capacity of the countries which produce it and that working closely with countries to improve their statistical capacities is necessary for the continuous improvement of data. The World Bank works in partnership with the global open data community and provides supports to countries who are willing to launch their own open data initiatives. [See slides]

Philip E. Bourne (UCSD) shared some thoughts from the biomedical sciences and indicated that while there are some success stories, many challenges still need to be addressed e.g. the lack of reproducibility and the unsolved problem of sustainability. He highlighted that change is driven by the community and there should be a perception that the community owns this culture including e.g. transparency and shared ownership, a reward system for individuals and teams, strategic policies on open access and data sharing plans, etc. and critically, the notion of “trust” in the data, which is crucial to the open data initiative. Funders and institutions may not initiate change but they would eventually follow suit: the structural biology community created successful data sharing plans before funders. He emphasised that it is all about openness: no restrictions on the usage of the data beyond attribution, running on open source software and transparency about data usage. [See slides]

Knowledge Sharing in Economics

The second panel, chaired by Eric von Hippel (MIT Sloan School of Management) dealt closer with the discipline of economics, what technological and cultural challenges still exist and what are the possible roles and initiatives. [See audio page].

Joshua Gans (University of Toronto) analysed some of the motives for knowledge contribution – e.g. money, award and recognition, ownership and control, intrinsic motivation, etc. – and addressed other issues like the design and technology problems which could be as important as social norms. He talked about designing for contribution and the importance of managing guilt: since there is a concern that data should be accurate and almost perfect, less data is contributed, so a well-designed system should enable the possibility of contributing imperfect pieces (like Wikipedia and open-source in breaking down contributions). This should be ideally combined with an element of usefulness for the contributors – so that they are getting something useful out of it. He called for providing an easy way of sharing without the hassle and all the questions which come from data users since there are “low hanging fruit” datasets that can be shared. [See slides]

Gert Wagner (German Institute for Economic Research DIW) spoke in his capacity as a Chairman of the German Data Forum, an organisation which promotes production of data, data re-use and re-analysis of data. He pointed out that there is no culture of data sharing in economics: “no credit is given where credit is due” and incentives should be promoted for sharing economics data. So far just funding organisations can enforce data sharing by data producers, but this only happens at the institutional level. For individual authors there is a little incentive to share data. As ways to change this culture, he suggested that there is a need to educate graduate students and early career professionals. In the German Socio-Economic Panel Study, a panel study of private households in Germany, they have been applying the Schrumpeter’s principle: where producers who innovate must educate the consumers if necessary. Along with the workshops which educate the new users in technical skills, they will be also educated to cite the data and give the credit, where credit is due. [See slides]

Daniel Feenberg (National Bureau of Economic Research) gave a brief introduction about NBER, which is a publisher of about a thousand working papers a year, more than a third of which are empirical economics papers of the United States. There is the option to upload data resources in a “data appendix” which are put on the website and available for free. Very few authors, however, take the advantage of being able to publish the data and are also aware that they will get questions if they make their data available. He mentioned that requiring data sharing is only something that employers and funders can mandate and there is a limited role for the publisher. Beside the issues of knowledge sharing design and incentives for individual researchers, there is also the issue of governments sharing data, where confidentiality is a big concern but also where politically motivated unscientific research may inform policy in which case more access and more research is better than less research.

John Rust (Georgetown University) indicated that the incentives for researchers might not be the biggest problem, but there is an inherent conflict between openness and confidentiality and there is a lot of economics research which uses data that cannot be made publicly available. While companies and organisations are often sceptical, risk-averse and not aware of the benefits of sharing their operations data with researchers, they could save money and make profit by research insights e.g. especially in the field of optimising rental and replacement decisions (see e.g. seminal paper by Rust 1987). Appealing to the self-interest of firms and showing success stories where collaborative research has worked can convince firms to share more data. The process of establishing trust and getting data could be aided by trusted intermediaries who can house and police confidential data and have the expertise to work with information protected by non-disclosure agreements.

Sharing Research Data

The panel session “Sharing research data – creating incentives and scholarly structures” was chaired by Thomas Burke (European University Institute Library) and dealt with different incentives and opportunities researchers have for sharing their data: storing it in a curated repository like the ICPSR or a self-service repository like DataVerse. In order to be citable a dataset should obtain a DOI where DataCite provides such a service and where a dataset can be also published with a data paper in a peer-review data journal. [See audio page].

Amy Pienta (The Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research – ICPSR) presented some context about the ICPSR – the oldest archive for social science data in the United States, which has been supporting data archiving and dissemination for over 50 years. Among some of the incentives for researchers to share data, she mentioned the funding agencies’ requirements to make data available, scientific openness and stimulating new research. ICPSR has been promoting data citations and getting more journal editors to understand data citations and when archiving data also capturing how data is being used, by what users, institutions, etc. The ICPSR is also currently developing open access data as a new product, where researchers will be allowed to publish their original data, tied with data citation and DOI, data downloads and usage statistics and layered with levels of curation services. See slides.

Mercè Crosas (Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Harvard University) presented the background of the DataVerse network, a free and open-source service and software to publish, share and reference research data, originally open only to social scientists, it now welcomes contributions from all universities and disciplines. It is completely self-curated platform where authors can upload data and additional documentation, adding additional metadata to make the resource more discoverable. It builds on the incentives of data sharing, giving a persistent identifier, generating automatically a data citation (using the format suggested by Altman and King 2007), providing usage statistics and giving attribution to the contributing authors. Currently DataVerse is implementing closer integration with journals using OJS, where the data resources of an approved paper will be directly deposited online. She also mentioned also the Amsterdam Manifesto on Data Citation Principles, which encourages different stakeholders – publishers, institutions, funders, researchers – to recognise the importance of data citations. See slides.

Joan Starr (DataCite, California Digital Library) talked about DataCite – an international organisation set up in 2009 to help researchers find, re-use and cite data. She mentioned some of the most important motivations for researchers to share and cite data e.g. exposure and credit for the work of researchers and curators, scientific transparency and accountability for the authors and data stewards, citation tracking and understanding the impact of one’s work, verification of results and re-use for producing new research (See more at ESIP—Earth Science Information Partners). Some of the basic service that DataCite provides are DOIs for data (see a list of international partners who can support you in your area). Other services include usage statistics and reports, content negotiation, citation formatter and metadata search where one could see what kind of data is being registered in a particular field. Recently DataCite has also implemented a partnership with Orchid to have all research outputs (including data) on researchers’ profiles. See slides.

Brian Hole (Ubiquity Press) talked about data journal or encouraging data sharing and improving data citations through the publication of data and methodology in data papers. He emphasised that while at the beginning of scientific publications it was enough to share the research findings, today the the data, software and methodology should be shared as well in order to enable replication and validation of the research results. Amongst the benefits of making research data available he mentioned the collective benefits for the research community, the long-term preservation or research outputs, enabling new and more research to be done in a more efficient way, re-use of the data in teaching, ensuring of public trust in science, access to publicly-funded research outputs, opportunities for citizen science, etc. The publication of a data paper where the data is stored in a repository with a DOI and linked with a short data paper which describes the methodology of creating the dataset could be a way to incentivise individual researchers to share their data as it builds up their career record of publications. Additional benefits of having data journals is having a metadata platform where data from different (sub-) disciplines can be collected and mashed up producing new research. See slides.

The Evolving Evidence Base of Social Science

The purpose of the panel on the evolving evidence base of social science, chaired by Benjamin Mako Hill (MIT Sloan School of Management / MIT Media Lab) is to showcase examples of collecting more and better data and making more informed policy decisions about a larger volume of evidence. See audio page.

Michael McDonald (George Mason University) presented some updates on the Public Mapping Project, which involves an open source online re-districting application which the optimises re-districting according to selected criteria and allows for public participation in decision-making. Most recently there was a partnership with Mexico – with Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) – using redistricting criteria like population equality, compactness, travel distance, respect for municipality boundaries, respect for indigenous communities, etc. A point was made about moving beyond data and having open optimisation algorithms, which can be verified, which is of great importance especially when they are the basis of an important public policy decision like the distribution of political representation across the country. Open code in this context is essential not just for the replication of research results but also for a transparent and accountable government. See slides.

Amparo Ballivian (Development Data Group, World Bank) presented the World Bank project for the collection of high frequency survey data using mobile phones. Some of the motivations for the pilot included the lack of recent and frequently updated data where e.g. poverty rates are calculated on the basis of household surveys, yet such surveys involve a long and costly process of data collection. The aspiration was related to the possibility of having comparable data data every month for thousands of households and being able to track changes in welfare and responses to crisis and having data to help decisions in real time. Two half year pilots were implemented in Peru and Honduras where e.g. it was possible to test monetary incentives, different cellphone technologies and the responses of different income groups. In contrast to e.g. crowd-sourced surveys, such a probabilistic cellphone survey provides the opportunity to draw inferences about the whole population and can be implemented at a much lower cost than the traditional household surveys. See slides.

Patrick McNeal (The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab) presented the AEA registry for randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Launched several weeks ago, sponsored by the AEA, the trials registry addresses the problem of publication bias in economics – setting up a place where a list is available of all ongoing RCTs in economics. The registry is open to researchers from around the world who want to register their randomised controlled trial. Some of the most interesting feedback of researchers includes e.g. having an easy and fast process for registering the studies (just about 17 fields are required), including a lot of information which can be taken from the project documentation, the optional uploading of the pre-analysis plan and the option to hide some fields until the trial is completed in order to address the fear that researches will expose their ideas publicly too early. The J-PAL affiliates who are running RCTs will have to register them in the system according to a new policy which mandates registration and there are also discussions on linking required registration with the funding policies of RCT funders. Registration of ongoing and completed trials is also pursued and training of RAs and PhD students now includes the registration of trials. See the website.

Pablo de Pedraza (University of Salamanca) chairs Webdatanet, a network that brings together web data experts from a variety of disciplines e.g. sociologists, psychologists, economists, media researchers, computer scientists working for universities, data collection institutes, companies and statistics institutes. Funded by the European Commission, the network has the goal of fostering the scientific use of web-based data like surveys, experiments, non-reactive data collection and mobile research. Webdatanet organises conferences and meetings, supports researchers to go to other institutes and do research through short scientific missions, organises training schools, web data metrics workshops, supports early career researchers and PhD students and has just started a working paper series. The network has working groups on quality issues, innovation and implementation (working with statistical institutes to obtain representative samples) and hosts bottom-up task forces which work on collaborative projects. See slides.

Mandating data availability and open licenses

The session chaired by Mireille van Echoud (IViR – Institute for Information Law) followed up on the discussions about making datasets available and citable to focus on the roles of different stakeholder and how responsibility should be shared. Mireille reminded that as the legal instruments like creative commons and open data licenses are already quite well-developed, role of the law in this context is in managing risk aversion and it is important to see how legal aspects are managed at the policy level. For instance, while the new EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation – Horizon 2020 – carries the flag of open access to research publications, there are already a lot of exceptions which would allow lawyers to contest that data falls under an open access obligation. See audio page.

Carson Christiano (Center for Creative Global Action – CEGA) presented the perspective of CEGA, an inter-disciplinary network of researchers focused on global development, which employs rigorous evaluation techniques to measure the impact of large-scale social and economic development programs. The research transparency initiative of CEGA is focusing on the methodology and motivated by the issues of publication bias, selective presentation of results and inadequate documentation of research projects where a number of studies in e.g. medicine, psychology, political science and economics have pointed out the fragility of research results in the absence of the methods and tools for replication. CEGA has launched an opinion series: Transparency in Social Science Research and is looking into ways to promote examples of researchers, support and train early career researchers and PhD students in registering studies and pre-analysis plans and working in a transparent way.

Daniel Goroff (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) raised the question of what funders should require of the people they make grants to, those who e.g. undertake economics research. While some funders may require data management plans and making the research outputs entirely open, this is not a simple matter and there are trade-offs involved. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has funded and supported the establishment of knowledge public goods, commodities which are non-rivalrous and non-excludable like big open access datasets with large setup costs (e.g. Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Census of Marine Life, Wikipedia, etc.). Public goods, however, are notoriously hard to finance. Thinking about other funding models, the involvement of markets and commercial enterprises where e.g. the data is available openly for free, but value-added services are offered at a charge could be some of the ways to make knowledge public goods useful and sustainable.

Nikos Askitas (Institute for the Study of Labor IZA) heads Data and Technology at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), a private independent economic research institute, based in in Bonn, Germany, focused on the analysis of global labor markets. He challenged the notion that funders must require data availability by the researchers, since researchers are already overburdened and too many restrictions may destroy creativity and result in well-documented mediocre research. The data peer review is also a very different process than a peer review of academic research. He suggested that there is a need to create a new class of professionals that will assist the researchers and which would require proper name, titles, salaries and recognition for their work.

Jean Roth (National Bureau of Economic Research – NBER) mentioned that there has been a lot of interest as well as compliance from researchers when the NSF implemented the data managements plans. Several years ago, she modified the NBER paper submission code to incorporate adding data to submit together with the code and now researchers curate their data themselves where about 5.5% have papers have data available with the paper. A number of the data products from the NBER are very popular in online searches which helps people find the data in a format which is easier to use. As a Data Specialist at the NBER, she helps to make data more usable and to facilitate the re-use by other researchers. Over time the resources and time invested in making data more usable decrease both for the data curator and for the users of data.

The last session concentrated on further steps for the open economics community and ideas which should be pursued. If you have any questions or need to get in touch with one of the presented projects, please contact us at economics[at]okfn.org.

Second Open Economics International Workshop

Velichka Dimitrova - June 5, 2013 in Announcements, Events, Featured, Open Data, Open Economics, Workshop

Next week, on June 11-12, at the MIT Sloan School of Management, the Open Economics Working Group of the Open Knowledge Foundation will gather about 40 economics professors, social scientists, research data professionals, funders, publishers and journal editors for the second Open Economics International Workshop.

The event will follow up on the first workshop held in Cambridge UK and will conclude with agreeing a statement on the Open Economics principles. Some of the speakers include Eric von Hippel, T Wilson Professor of Innovation Management and also Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT, Shaida Badiee, Director of the Development Data Group at the World Bank and champion for the Open Data Initiative, Micah Altman, Director of Research and Head of the Program on Information Science for the MIT Libraries as well as Philip E. Bourne, Professor at the University of California San Diego and Associate Director of the RCSB Protein Data Bank.

The workshop will address topics including:

  • Research data sharing: how and where to share economics social science research data, enforce data management plans, promote better data management and data use
  • Open and collaborative research: how to create incentives for economists and social scientists to share their research data and methods openly with the academic community
  • Transparent economics: how to achieve greater involvement of the public in the research agenda of economics and social science

The knowledge sharing in economics session will invite a discussion between Joshua Gans, Jeffrey S. Skoll Chair of Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and Co-Director of the Research Program on the Economics of Knowledge Contribution and Distribution, John Rust, Professor of Economics at Georgetown University and co-founder of EconJobMarket.org, Gert Wagner, Professor of Economics at the Berlin University of Technology (TUB) and Chairman of the German Census Commission and German Council for Social and Economic Data as well as Daniel Feenberg, Research Associate in the Public Economics program and Director of Information Technology at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The session on research data sharing will be chaired by Thomas Bourke, Economics Librarian at the European University Institute, and will discuss the efficient sharing of data and how to create and enforce reward structures for researchers who produce and share high quality data, gathering experts from the field including Mercè Crosas, Director of Data Science at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS) at Harvard University, Amy Pienta, Acquisitions Director at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), Joan Starr, Chair of the Metadata Working Group of DataCite as well as Brian Hole, the founder of the open access academic publisher Ubiquity Press.

Benjamin Mako Hill, researcher and PhD Candidate at the MIT and Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Univeresity, will chair the session on the evolving evidence base of social science, which will highlight examples of how economists can broaden their perspective on collecting and using data through different means: through mobile data collection, through the web or through crowd-sourcing and also consider how to engage the broader community and do more transparent economic research and decision-making. Speakers include Amparo Ballivian, Lead Economist working with the Development Data Group of the World Bank, Michael P. McDonald, Associate Professor at George Mason University and co-principle investigator on the Public Mapping Project and Pablo de Pedraza, Professor at the University of Salamanca and Chair of Webdatanet.

The morning session on June 12 will gather different stakeholders to discuss how to share responsibility and how to pursue joint action. It will be chaired by Mireille van Eechoud, Professor of Information Law at IViR and will include short statements by Daniel Goroff, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Nikos Askitas, Head of Data and Technology at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), Carson Christiano, Head of CEGA’s partnership development efforts and coordinating the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS) and Jean Roth, the Data Specialist at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

At the end of the workshop the Working Group will discuss the future plans of the project and gather feedback on possible initiatives for translating discussions in concrete action plans. Slides and audio will be available on the website after the workshop. If you have any questions please contact economics [at] okfn.org

Metametrik first sprint

Velichka Dimitrova - May 31, 2013 in Featured, Metametrik

This blog post is written by Martin Keegan and Velichka Dimitrova.

On Saturday, May 25, a team of economists and programming experts gathered to plan a format for the saving of regression results in economics. The project would allow for the building of a database of empirical results, where queries would be made, allowing to answer questions like: do authors tend to get more significant results when using World Bank data instead of Penn World Table data and how conclusions about the relationships of variables have evolved over time.

Based on some ideas outlined by the Working Group last year, we worked on a post-publication version of a small system where an informed researcher would be able to enter regression results, which would be saved in a database and then these results would be queried by a researcher who wants to analyse the empirical literature.

We took an approach which turned out to be fairly similar to Guo’s recommendation: create a JSON schema capturing the basics of a regression result (the dependent variable, the goodness of fit, the sample size, standard errors and effect sizes of results), and then make tools which produce and consume data in this format.

So far, we have a tool which generates Metametrik format data, and a tool which reads this into a database. What’s needed next is web UIs that produce this data (for articles already published) and allow you to search it.

Get updates on Metametrik by signing to the mailing list, follow Open Economics and Martin Keegan on Twitter. To comment on the relationship diagramme see schema.

Making Data Count and the Value of Research Data

Velichka Dimitrova - May 29, 2013 in Featured, Open Research

Last month in Berlin, the Knowledge Exchange gathered around 80 representatives from funder agencies, research institutions, universities and scholarly societies in the Making Data Count workshop with the aim “to discuss and build on possibilities to implement the culture of sharing and to integrate publication of data into research assessment procedures.”

The report “The Value of Research Data: Metrics for datasets from a cultural and technical point of view”, which was presented during the workshop argued that while data sharing between scientists in not a common practice, the development of data metrics should serve as one of the incentives for researchers, being incorporated in the professional and career reward structures and making data more visible and establishing a better practice of data citation and data re-use.

Some of the conclusions of the report also emphasise that data sharing has many important functions. One of them is serving as “a potential source for scientific recognition”, where the creation and curation of datasets may be seen an important contribution to be considered in promotions and the allocation of research funding. Another function of making data openly available to the research community is providing the possibility to verify and reproduce research findings as part of good scientific practice, “protecting against fraud and faulty data”.

Additionally, data sharing allows a more efficient use of research resources where repeated collection of data is avoided and new opportunities emerge for the re-use of the data and for new scientific collaborations. Data sharing is also mentioned as tool enabling new research agendas, international research collaborations and interdisciplinary research. Then, the availability of research data provides training material and supports the work of educators.

The report also discusses the current data metrics models, the opportunities and limitations of data publications, which the authors point out as the most developed model of all. The recommendations include bringing down the costs of data publications and making the process more efficient, incorporating data metrics in the scholarly award structures, reducing the dispersion of data repositories, developing standards and interoperability protocols across the different actors, etc.

The report was written by Rodrigo Costas, Ingeborg Meijer, Zohreh Zahedi and Paul Wouters of Leiden University. Read the report

Open Access Economics: To share or not to share?

Velichka Dimitrova - May 22, 2013 in Featured, Open Access, Open Data, Open Economics, Open Research

Last Friday, Barry Eichengreen, professor of Economics and Political Science at Berkeley, wrote about “Open Access Economics” at the prestigious commentary, analysis and opinion page Project Syndicate, where influential professionals, politicians, economists, business leaders and Nobel laureates share opinions about current economic and political issues.

He reaffirmed that indeed the results of the Reinhart and Rogoff study were used by some politicians to justify austerity measures taken by governments around the world with stifling public debt.

Professor Eichengreen also criticised the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) for failing to require data and code for the “flawed study” of the Harvard economists, which appeared first in the distinguished working paper series of NBER.

In line with the discussion we started at the LSE Social Impact Blog and the New Scientist, Barry Eichengreen brought home the message that indeed the enforcement of a data availability would have made a difference in this case.

At the same time, some express doubts about the need to share data and think about excuses to avoid sharing the data related to their publication. Economists at the anonymous web forum Econjobrumors.com have been joking about the best ways to avoid sharing data.

Here are some of “creative” suggestions on how the anonymous author could get around sending their data:

“Refer him to your press secretary”
“Tell him you had a computer virus that wiped out the dataset”
“Not obliged to let anyone free ride. Can you explain it like that?”
“Tell him its proprietary data and you can’t share it without having to kill him.”
“Tell him, ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
“…say you signed NDA.”
“Huddle in the corner of your office wrapped in a blanket and some hot coco from the machine down the hall and wait for the inevitable.”
“Don’t reply.”

Anonymous author: “No, did not make up the results. But let’s just say you really do not want to play with the data in any way. No good for significance.”
Anonymous comment: “Added a couple of extra stars for good luck?”.

While many of the discussions on the anonymous blog are employing humour and jokes, this discussion reflects a mainstream attitude towards data sharing. It also shows how uncertain are some authors of the robustness of their results – even if they did not make any Reinhart and Rogoff excel mistakes, they are hesitating about sharing lest closer scrutiny would expose weaker methodology. Maybe more disclosure – there data can be shared – could improve the way research is done.

Securing the Knowledge Foundations of Innovation

Velichka Dimitrova - May 15, 2013 in Advisory Panel, Featured, Open Access, Open Data, Open Research

Last month, Paul David, professor of Economics at Stanford University, Senior Fellow of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) and a member of the Advisory Panel delivered a keynote presentation at the International Seminar of the PROPICE in Paris.

Professor David expresses concern that the increased use of intellectual property rights (IPR) protections “has posed problems for open collaborative scientific research” and that the IPR regime has been used by businesses e.g. to “raise commercial rivals’ costs”, where empirical evidence shows has shown that business innovation is “is being inhibited by patent thickets”.

In describing the anti-commons issue, professor David also pointed out that research databases are likely sites for problems and emphasised the importance of protecting the future open access to critical data.

Also, high quality data would be very costly, where “…strengthening researchers’ incentives to create transparent, fully documented and dynamically annotated datasets to be used by others remains an insufficiently addressed problem”.

Read the whole presentation below:

Metametrik Sprint in London, May 25

Velichka Dimitrova - May 2, 2013 in Announcements, Call for participation, Events, Featured, Metametrik, Sprint

The Open Economics Working Group is inviting to a one-day sprint to create a machine-readable format for the reporting of regression results.

  • When: May 25, Saturday, 10:00-16:00
  • Where: Centre for Creative Collaboration (tbc), 16 Acton Street, London, WC1X 9NG
  • How to participate: please, write to economics [at] okfn.org

The event is meant for graduate students in economics and quantitative social science as well as other scientists and researchers who are working with quantitative data analysis and regressions. We would also welcome developers with some knowledge in XML and other mark-up programming and others interested to contribute to this project.

About Metametrik

Metametrik, as a machine readable format and platform to store econometric results, will offer a universal form for presenting empirical results. Furthermore, the resulting database would present new opportunities for data visualisation and “meta-regressions”, i.e. statistical analysis of all empirical contributions in a certain area.

During the sprint we will create a prototype of a format for saving regression results of empirical economics papers, which would be the basis of meta analysis of relationships in economics. The Metametrik format would include:

  • XML (or another markup language) derived format to describe regression output, capturing what dependent and independent variables were used, type of dataset (e.g. time series, panel), sign and magnitude of the relationship (coefficient and t-statistic), data sources, type of regression (e.g. OLS, 2SLS, structural equations), etc.
  • a database to store the results (possible integration with CKAN) – a user interface to allow for entry of results to be translated and saved in the Metametrik format. Results could be also imported directly from statistical packages
  • Visualisation of results and GUI – enabling queries from the database and displaying basic statistics about the relationships.

Background

Since computing power and data storage have become cheaper and more easily available, the number of empirical papers in economics has increased dramatically. Despite the large numbers of empirical papers, however, there is still no unified and machine readable standard for saving regression results. Researchers are often faced with a large volume of empirical papers, which describe regression results in similar yet differentiated ways.

Like bibliographic machine readable formats (e.g. bibtex), the new standard would facilitate the dissemination and organization of existing results. Ideally, this project would offer an open storage where researchers can submit their regression results (for example in an XML type format). The standard could also be implemented in a wide range of open source econometric packages and projects like R or RePec.

From a practical perspective, this project would greatly help to organize the large pile of existing regressions and facilitate literature reviews: If someone is interested in the relationship between democracy and economic development, for example, s/he need not go through the large pile of current papers but can simply look up the relationship on the open storage: The storage will then produce a list of existing results, along with intuitive visualizations (what % of results are positive/negative, how do the results evolve over time/i.e. is there a convergence in results). From an academic perspective, the project would also facilitate the compilation of meta-regressions that have become increasingly popular. Metametrik will be released under an open license.

If you have further questions, please contact us at economics [at] okfn.org