Monday, September 23, 2013

Publish your data

This morning, an official enquiry into the scientific conduct of professor Mart Bax concluded that he had committed large-scale scientific fraud over a period of 15 years. Mart Bax is a now-retired professor of political anthropology at the Free University Amsterdam. In 2012 a journalist first accused him of fraud, and this spring, the Volkskrant, one of the big newspapers in the Netherlands reported they were not able to find any of the informants Mart Bax had used in his studies.

An official enquiry followed. You can can the report here (in Dutch). In summary, Mart Bax most likely made up at least 64, mostly peer-reviewed articles and recycled his own articles using different titles in different journals. Although the investigation could not rule out that some studies were just done sloppily the overall picture from the report is one of overall scientific misconduct.

So, what to do about this? I have a clear opinion on this: Make your data available, and replicate other people's studies

What strikes me, is that it seems normal to some social scientists not to store interviews (whether on tape or anonymized in scripts) or publish datasets. It may be a little more difficult for qualitative researchers than quantitative researchers to do this. Back in the 1990s, when Mart Bax committed this fraud, it may have been really complicated to publish such transcripts online. Nowadays, it is dead easy however, and some, although not many journals offer this service. See for some good examples in the social sciences:

- The review of economical studies: will only publish articles that provide data, and where analyses can be replicated. This is the only example that I could find of a journal policy that really makes it easy to replicate research findings.
- All Springer journals provide the opportunity for supplementary materials (among them data). Is just an option.
- The journal of Personality and Social Psychology encourages providing data and analysis scripts in general (The American Psychological Association as w hole does this).

 If you know of any other journals with good replicability policies, please send a comment or e-mail (p.lugtig AT, so I can compile a more comprehensive list.
In the natural sciences, there are journals where datasets are peer-reviewed and published. As social scientists, we have a long way to go to tackle fraud, and generally become much more open about our data and analysis methods. Journals, professional associations, and individualresearchers should all be stricter on data accessibility, and replicability of studies.