Privacy, Big Data, and the Public Good

Videos and presentations from the book launch of “Privacy, Big Data and the Public Good” (Lane, J., Stodden, V., Bender, S. & Nissenbaum, H. (Eds)) are now available online.

Hosted by the NYU Center for Urban Science on July 16, the event included several panels with the book’s editors and a number of the authors.

Overview of the book:

Massive amounts of new data about people, their movements, and activities can now be accessed and analyzed as never before. Numerous privacy concerns have been raised by use – or misuse – of such data in commercial and national security arenas. Yet we are motivated by the potential for “big data” to be harnessed to serve the public good: scientists can use new forms of data to do research that improves people’s live; federal, state and local governments can use data to improve the delivery of services to citizens; and non-profit organizations can use the information to advance the public good.

Access to big data raises many unanswered questions related to privacy and confidentiality:  What are the ethical and legal requirements for scientists and government officials seeking to serve the public good without harming individual citizens? What are the rules of engagement? What are the best ways to provide access while protecting confidentiality? Are there reasonable mechanisms to compensate citizens for privacy loss?

Published by Cambridge University Press, the book is an accessible summary of the important legal, economic, and statistical thinking that frames the many privacy issues associated with the use of big data – along with practical suggestions for protecting privacy and confidentiality that can help to guide practitioners.

Research Transparency & Open Knowledge: Lessons from #OKFest14

By Guillaume Kroll (CEGA)

Over a thousand scientists, activists, and civil society representatives from over 60 countries gathered in Berlin last week for the 2014 Open Knowledge Festival (OKFest14). The Festival is the flagship event of the Open Knowledge Foundation, an international nonprofit promoting open tools, data, and information for the positive transformation of society.

Welcome Ceremony at OKFest14 © Guillaume Kroll

Welcome Ceremony at OKFest14 © Guillaume Kroll

It’s a well-oiled event, full of energy and creativity, bringing together an eclectic group that goes as far as to include street artistsEU commissioners, and a lot of data geeks scientists, to build a community around the ideals of openness and transparency.

Below is an overview of cool tools, resources, and other pieces of advice gathered at the Festival pertaining to social science research:


Science Establishes New Statistics Review Board

The journal Science is adding an additional step of statistical checks to its peer-review process in an effort to strengthen confidence in published study findings.

From the July 4th edition of Science:

[...] Science has established, effective 1 July 2014, a Statistical Board of Reviewing Editors (SBoRE), consisting of experts in various aspects of statistics and data analysis, to provide better oversight of the interpretation of observational data. Members of the SBoRE will receive manuscripts that have been identified [...] as needing additional scrutiny of the data analysis or statistical treatment. The SBoRE member assesses what the issue is that requires screening and suggests experts from the statistics community to provide it.

So why is Science taking this additional step? Readers must have confidence in the conclusions published in our journal. We want to continue to take reasonable measures to verify the accuracy of those results. We believe that establishing the SBoRE will help avoid honest mistakes and raise the standards for data analysis, particularly when sophisticated approaches are needed.

[...] I have been amazed at how many scientists have never considered that their data might be presented with bias. There are fundamental truths that may be missed when bias is unintentionally overlooked, or worse yet, when data are “massaged.” Especially as we enter an era of “big data,” we should raise the bar ever higher in scrutinizing the analyses that take us from observations to understanding.


How to Manipulate Peer Review and Get Your Paper Published

Another scandal of peer review abuse should urge academic journals to reconsider their publication requirements.

This one comes from the Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC), an highly technical outlet in the field of acoustics, which just retracted 60 papers at once.

The mass retraction followed the revelation of a “peer review ring” in which one or more researchers fabricated identities to review their own papers and get them published.

It is not the first time such scandal happens, but the number of papers involved and the apparent facility under which the shady researchers operated should ring the alarm bell.

JVC is part of SAGE Publications, a leading international publisher of scholarly and educational products, many of which in the social sciences.

Considering the significant impact that social science studies can have on the design of social and economic policies, which affect all of us, isn’t it time the academic community realign its professional incentives with scholarly values?

Peer Review of Social Science Research in Global Health

A new working paper by Victoria Fan, Rachel Silverman, David Roodman, and William Savedoff at the Center for Global Development.


In recent years, the interdisciplinary nature of global health has blurred the lines between medicine and social science. As medical journals publish non-experimental research articles on social policies or macro-level interventions, controversies have arisen when social scientists have criticized the rigor and quality of medical journal articles, raising general questions about the frequency and characteristics of methodological problems and the prevalence and severity of research bias and error.

Published correspondence letters can be used to identify common areas of dispute within interdisciplinary global health research and seek strategies to address them. To some extent, these letters can be seen as a “crowd-sourced” (but editor-gated) approach to public peer review of published articles, from which some characteristics of bias and error can be gleaned.

In December 2012, we used the online version of The Lancet to systematically identify relevant correspondence in each issue published between 2008 and 2012. We summarize and categorize common areas of dispute raised in these letters.


Replication in Economics Database

For scientific progress, it is pivotal to review research findings by independently replicating results, thus making the findings more reliable. However, in econometric research, it is not yet common practice to publish replication findings.

Replication Wiki

This wiki, developed by researchers at the University of Göttingen (Germany), compiles replications of empirical studies in economics. It is a great resource for teaching replications to students. There is also opportunities for publication, as replication of existing studies can be published as replication working papers of the University of Göttingen’s Center for Statistics.

Join the Project

You can join the project by entering a new replication or indicating empirical studies that could be replicated. For the latter, you can vote which ones should be replicated in priority. Furthermore, you can improve the articles in the wiki and make comments. Under current events, you can post news and announce upcoming events. The community portal lists open tasks and suggestions for the wiki.

Added Value


10 Things You Need to Know About…

Check out this new EGAP series:

All the latest on research transparency

Here you can find information about the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS), read and comment on opinion blog posts, learn about our annual meeting, find useful tools and resources, and contribute to the discussion by adding your voice.

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