3 02 2014

Some Canadian social-science academics have recently been talking about the data archiving policy of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council in that country. The policy is designed to ensure that the raw data that researchers assemble in the course of preparing publications is accessible for others to use. The policy states:

 

SSHRC is committed to the principle that the various forms of research data collected with public funds belong in the public domain. Accordingly, SSHRC has adopted a policy to facilitate making data that has been collected with the help of SSHRC funds available to other researchers. Costs associated with preparing research data for deposit are considered eligible expenses in SSHRC research grant programs. Research data includes quantitative social, political and economic data sets; qualitative information in digital format; experimental research data; still and moving image and sound data bases; and other digital objects used for analytical purposes…

When developing a research project that involves the creation of data sets, researchers should ask their postsecondary institution’s or organization’s library or data service if it can preserve the data. If it cannot or if one wishes to have the data deposited at another institution, researchers could consider contacting one of the members of the Canadian Association of University Libraries to enquire about data management assistance.

This policy is clearly a small step in the right direction. Forcing people to put their research notes online is a great move, as it increases transparency and helps researchers working on related topics. In the aftermath of Excelgate, I hardly need to belabour this point. However, I’m a little bit disturbed that SSHRC is asking each researcher to create their own website to archive their data sets. SSHRC should be doing this itself on its own website.

 

I think it would be far more efficient for all concerned if SSHRC created a centralized repository for all of the data sets created by the researchers it funds. The ESRC in the UK has done this and its Data Store is a treasure trove of information for the social scientists. Among other things, it prevents researchers from unnecessarily duplicating data collection that has been done by someone else.

The ESRC Data Store is a permanent repository, which means that if a researcher dies or leaves the academic world or doesn’t maintain their website, their data set will not be lost. It’s a go-to point and the clearinghouse for raw data. Last year, I accessed an Excel file containing historical data that I found on the ESRC Data Store. I was curious about the academic who created the data back in the 1990s, but they were completely untraceable, despite having a rather unusual name. I suspect that the person is no longer alive.

I would be curious to know why SSHRC has decided not to follow the ESRC in creating a Data Store. I suspect that their reasons relate to cost. If so, the policy of leaving the data archiving to individual researchers is foolish, as SSHRC could likely achieve some economies of scale in setting up a data repository using cloud computing.

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