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Open Access Economics: To share or not to share?

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 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.

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