Monday, May 15, 2017

War on Open Data?

Open data - that is, making datasets freely available for other researchers and even the general public to inspect and reanalyze - seems to be a natural progression of the scientific method, particularly with regard to dissemination as well as replication. That is, in order to call a particular inquiry 'science,' we have to follow specific rules and steps. And one of these steps is to share our methods and the results with others so that they may examine what we did and come to their own conclusions. Given that researchers can game the system by inflating their Type I error rate, misreporting or fabricating results, or even just making simple mistakes, it's essential that others have access to methods, results, and even the original data where possible.

That's why it is incredibly disturbing that the Trump administration is removing publicly available datasets - a lot of them:
Across the vast breadth of the government, agencies have traditionally provided the public with massive data sets, which can be of great value to companies, researchers and advocacy groups, among others. Three months ago, there were 195,245 public data sets available on, according to Nathan Cortez, the associate dean of research at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, who studies the handling of public data. This week it stood at just under 156,000.

Data experts say the decrease, at least in part, may reflect the consolidation of data sets or the culling of outdated ones, rather than a strategic move to keep information from the public. But the reduction was clearly a conscious decision.

Cortez said the Obama administration increased the amount of government data offered to the public, although the information was at times incomplete or inaccurate and sometimes used as a “regulatory cudgel.” Under Trump, the government is taking transparency “in the opposite direction.”

In some cases, federal Web pages are being routinely maintained. In other cases, information that was once easily accessible to the public has moved to locations that are harder to find, access and interpret. Yet other data has entirely vanished.

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