Data Interview with Jude Towers

Already our third Data Interview! This time with Dr Jude Towers. Jude is Lecturer in Sociology and Quantitative Methods and the Associate Director Violence and Society UNESCO Centre. She holds Graduate Statistician status from the Royal Statistical Society, is an Accredited Researcher through the ONS Approved Researcher Scheme, and is level 3 vetted by Lancashire Constabulary. Her current research is focused on the measurement of violence. Jude also presented at the first Data Conversations.

Q: Jude, what data do you currently work with?

Jude: The main data I work with is the Crime Survey for England and Wales. That is available on the UK Data Service. The different parts of it have different access requirements. The main questionnaire which I now mostly use is relative straightforward. You can just download it and use it.

Then we comply with the Home Office and ONS [Office for National Statistics] recommendations about the sizes of cells for publication. They say there should be a minimum of 50 respondents in a cell before it’s statistically analysed. You must ensure that you if you’re doing cross tabulations, for example, the numbers are sufficient that you couldn’t identify individual respondents. That is relatively straightforward and I would say that’s general good practice in dealing with that kind of data.

We have also used the Intimate Violence module, which is a self-complete module as part of the Crime Survey. For that there is a special level of access which requires training from what used to be the Administrative Data Liaison Service. That was a one day training course in London, signing of lots of different agreements. Then you access that data through your desktop computer, it has to be a static IP address, and everything is held on their server. You go into their server, you can’t bring anything out, and everything you do has to be done in there.

That means if you want to write a journal article using that data you have to write it inside their server. Anything that you produce using that data, whether it’s a presentation in PowerPoint, a table in a slide, all of that has to have approval from the UK Data Service before it can come off the server into any form of public domain. That has to be done each time you use it. It is quite onerous in some ways but is a very high level of security.

Jude Towers

Q: That data is already in an archive so there is no need to share it again. Is citing that data straightforward in case somebody wants to see the data that you used?

Jude: Yes, it’s straightforward to cite. If people want to have access to the raw data they’d have to be accredited in the same way I got accredited. We got the whole team accredited at the same time so we can share data as we produced the work. There is nobody in our team who isn’t accredited. There is no problem …. we can sit in front of the computer and look at that data as we’re trying to develop the work.

Q: So if I were to look at your screen here to view the data I’d have to have the accreditation.

Jude: Yes! Actually it’s interesting that some of these requirements are similar to the ones for police data.

We are doing a lot of work with Lancashire Constabulary. We as a team have just been vetted to Level 3 which gives us the same access as any serving police officer. We have direct access to raw data at the individual level. This is for two reasons. One is that you can ask for data that the police put together, anonymise and give you but if you don’t know what data there is, it is really difficult to know what to ask for. And the second reason is being able to explore the data at that level means that you can make links that you couldn’t otherwise make. You can find individual people in different datasets that allows you to ask much more complex research questions and then anonymise and take it out as a dataset.

That’s been quite an interesting process. First of all, you have to be vetted. Then you get your police access card. Rather than it being on a secure server what we have now got is police laptops. We access the police server through that police laptop. Again, you can’t take anything out until it is anonymised. The keyboard on the laptop records every keystroke so someone can exactly see who you have looked for and why you have looked for them.

Then the requirements that are similar to some of the Home Office ones which are being in a locked office without public access so someone can’t look at what you’re doing over your shoulder whilst you’re doing it. I couldn’t take my police laptop and work in the Library. You can’t work on it in public spaces.

That’s quite interesting because we just got two ESRC Studentships with Lancashire Constabulary and they will do the same. They go through Level 3 vetting and they’ll have the police laptops. But then we came across the problem where do we put them? They can’t go in an office with other PhD students who are not vetted. They are at different stages in their PhD. So actually, what we’ve had to do were quite specific arrangements so that those students share a room that’s locked. You can’t have someone else in the room who is not vetted!

Q: Is it more difficult in this case to cite data because the data is not in an archive like the UK Data Archive?

Jude: What we haven’t yet done in any official capacity, but we’ve had discussions. The Crime Survey data people can access. What we have done in some of the cases where we have produced new data we’ve done data tables and can release those. So people can see the data we use, completely anonymized, aggregated to a very high level. If people want the raw data they can get accredited or they can go to the UK Data Service. If people just want to re-run our statistical tests then the “semi-raw data” if you like is there.

Jude Towers

Q: Is that what you could do with the police dataset?

Jude: That is the conversation we are currently having with the police: Is there any point at which that data can be released into the public domain. We haven’t yet made agreements about that. I think what we’ll end up doing will be very interesting. There are very few researchers who are doing it in this way. Most people get given anonymised data that the police have anonymised themselves.

So we are doing a series of test cases saying that as we increasingly aggregate and anonymise the data at what level can that data put into the public domain and at what level is it useful? We’ll have to see if we can find a place that matches where it is still useful and it can go public. If we are able to do that then we’ll put it into archives.

Q: That is really interesting!

Jude: Yes, but is very clear that in the ESRC Studentships that the police have the final say on that.

Jude at the first Data Conversations

Q: Do the police have a level of expertise and confidence in providing data and working with you? Does that work well?

Jude: It does work well. The police are in a really interesting position. They [are] systematically, some more quickly than others… [nationally] moving to evidence based policing and significantly improving their research capacity. At the moment they are doing that in two ways. One is by working closely with universities and the other is by more systematically training police officers and associate staff.

I am doing a lot of work with Leeds University on data analytics for the police and we are setting up CPD [Continuing Professional Development] for data analysts in the police to have a more systemic and academic approach to research questions. Now that’s really interesting because the position they are in in their organisation tends to be relatively low but some of the things they are asked are just impossible.

So we are trying to give them the tools to say you can’t ask me for this when you don’t collect it. Or you want me to evaluate something but nobody told me it was happening so there is no data from before. We’re getting them to think through the research process in order to influence how data analytics are used inside the police. It is interesting because there is a bit of a debate about whether they really need data analysts or they can spend their money buying really good algorithms [which] will sort all this stuff out. Our argument is that you need really good data analysts because you need them to explicate the inherent theories that people have, that they’re trying to test, that they can talk people through that research process.

In Lancashire Police those things are coming together. They are much more actively working with academics and they are much more systemically embedding academic research processes inside the institution. They have a Futures team that includes multiple PhDs, M.A.s and now even some undergraduate students. They have a list of research questions that they are interested in as an institution, and they are actively going out looking for people who do that research for them and to sit inside the police while they do it.

Q: That is really fascinating! Is there anything Lancaster University could do to help you or your colleagues with your research? Or does the set up work for you?

Jude: I think it’s OK. The sticky parts are things we are working through for example around contracts. Who owns the Intellectual Property? Who gets final say over publications? We’ve been lucky so far that we’ve negotiated things but I know in other areas these have been problematic: getting clarity and setting up protocols is useful.

There’s been some talk about setting up secure data hubs and I’m in two minds about it. I think in some ways they’d be really useful but I think in other ways they are perhaps a bit inflexible. My colleague across the corridor is doing the same as us with social work data and they’ve done what we have done. They accredited the individuals and have given them a specific laptop to access that data directly, and that works really well.

Thanks very much for the interview Jude!

 You can find out more about Jude and her research here. Her current research papers are: with Walby and Francis, ‘Is violent crime increasing or decreasing?’ (BJC 2016); with Walby, ‘Measuring violence to end violence’ (Journal of Gender-based Violence forthcoming); and with Walby et al, The Concept and Measurement of Violence against Women and Men (Policy Press 2017).

Data Interview with Jo Knight

This is our second Data Interview. This time we were glad to have a chat with Dr Jo Knight.

Jo is a Reader within the CHICAS research group, Research Director in the Lancaster Medical School and theme lead for Health within Lancaster’s Data Science Institute. Jo has experience in developing new methods for analysing genetic data as well as experience in applying known techniques to a large variety of datasets.

The Conversation by Michael Dunne, Flickr, CC BY-NC

Q: Jo, when you talked at our recent Data Management event about a “positive” data management story and a “negative” story there was a lot of interest in that, so we thought we could use this in our next Data Interview. Which story would you like to start with?

Jo: I think it would be good to start with a negative one so I can end on a positive note. And chronologically that is how it occurred.

So the negative story relates to an early time in my career. I had some genetic data on a number of individuals, about 120. I did some statistical analysis of the data. I noticed that some of the patterns that I had in my analysis seemed unusual. They weren’t characteristic of the type of patterns you would expect given that the individuals in this sample were supposed to be siblings. I didn’t have enough genetic information to establish their relationships completely but I did have enough to see that overall patterns didn’t look how I expected them to.

I took the data to someone more experienced and said: “There is something wrong with the patterns here”, and he said “Yep, there is definitely something wrong. Those individuals clearly aren’t related to each other.”

At that time, given the technologies that were available, we couldn’t just get more data to determine the relationships. We had to throw all of that data away!

It was essentially because the data and the samples had not been linked and managed. At some point between labelling the samples, entering the labels into a database and recording the relationships and rest of the information about the individuals something had gone wrong. So the data management had gone wrong and these samples were now completely useless. As well loss of my time we couldn’t use these samples for any other work either. They no longer had the data provenance.

Q: Can you quantify how much time you invested in that project?

Jo: It’s hard to remember but for me it would have been months of work to interrogate the samples! It would also have cost a fair amount in reagents. And for the person that collected the data probably up to a year’s work getting all the DNA samples from the individuals. Furthermore those individuals had given samples for medical research that was not been able to be undertaken.

Q: That is a rather sad story.

Jo: Yes, it is.

Dr Jo Knight

Q: Now the positive story. What happened?

Jo: I’m involved in a Consortium now, the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, and in this Consortium over 800 researchers from 38 countries have come together and worked really very hard through ethical approvals, data procedures, data collection and data pooling in order to collate samples.

And they have been able to collect data that is now published, actually a couple of years ago in 2014, on more than 35,000 schizophrenic cases and even more control samples than that. And through the good and appropriate management of data it has meant that we were able to identify 108 genetic risk loci for schizophrenia. It has enabled us to move the field forward in terms of beginning to understand the genetic contribution to schizophrenia.

For a long time we knew that schizophrenia has a genetic component but we were unable to pinpoint very many of the risk variants at all, and this study was a real landmark in identifying a large number of the risk variants involved in the disorder. Lots more work needs to be done! What is really exciting about the Consortium is that the original paper is just the tip of the iceberg. That was the paper where the first analysis was done but the data is now held and managed in a manner that researchers who work in psychiatric genetics are able to access that data, analyse that data and answer lots of different questions about the genetic predisposition to schizophrenia.

The Psychiatric Genomics Consortium holds data on lots of other disorders as well. Basically, the appropriate management of that data means we are able to learn a lot more about diseases than we would have if people hadn’t got together and as a large group effectively managed the data.

Q: What is the key step in doing this?

Jo: It’s a willingness to share data and to see the bigger scientific question that can be answered if you share the data, and not just try to hold onto it and answer your own smaller questions. It is a willingness to put considerable amounts of time into data management. So there are lots of people including myself that have informal unpaid roles in managing that data to make it accessible.

Q: What can we as an institution do to encourage that willingness to share data?

Jo: I think Lancaster University as an institution has a very strong positive view of collaborative research across the Faculties and beyond the University. And that’s the kind of thing that does encourage people to share data and be involved in these projects. I think that is something we need to continue to pursue. And also the support systems that we have in place, the people and systems that help us to deposit data and make it available.

Thanks very much for the interview Jo!

 You can find out more about Jo and her research here. The full reference of the article on schizophrenia mentioned by Jo is:

“Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. Biological insights from 108 schizophrenia-associated genetic loci.” (2014) Nature. 24 July. 511 (7510): 421-7. doi:10.1038/nature13595

 

Data Interview by Hardy Schwamm (@HardySchwamm), 3 May 2017.

 

Data Interview with David Ellis (Part 2)

Part 2 (of two) of a Data Interview with Dr David Ellis (@davidaellis). See here for Part 1. David is a Lecturer in Computational Social Science and holds a 50th Anniversary Lectureship in Psychology at Lancaster University.

Picture from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Opendata.png CC-BY-SA

Q: In support of Open Data what roles do Policies by funders of the University have? Are they helpful? Or is it seen as just another hurdle in the way of doing research?

David: I could be wrong but I don’t think most people just view it as just a hurdle. I think when people have to write a Data Management Plan for a grant that is a bit of a pain. But I don’t think the idea of having the data freely available is something where most people say “I can’t be bothered”. It is an additional step but it is something people should be doing anyway because if you are going to be clear on what your results are the data should be in a form that’s usable and could be easily moved between people. I think most people say that’s a good thing but maybe I’m biased…

Q: I have talked to PhD students asking if they want to share their data and they said I should have asked them three years ago because now it is so much work. I wonder why that is and if we need to change the way we teach them how to manage their data?

David: I wonder if I would have said the same thing. All the data of my PhD is still around but as I was learning my craft I probably wasn’t the most efficient, and my data wasn’t managed as efficiently as I would do now. I don’t remember going to a data management training or anything. And if someone had done that on day one of my PhD? Data should be kept in an ordered fashion etc. I created a lot of extra work for myself because I would do some analysis, close the file and end up re-doing the same things I have done multiple times. And even on that level that is not very efficient.

David Ellis

Q: Is that something we should teach students, you think?

It’s probably something students wouldn’t be too keen [on].

Q: Yes, you don’t want to patronise them.

David: And it is a bit like saying: For god’s sake back up stuff! If you look at all the horror stories [about] who loses data. It’s only when it goes wrong that it becomes a problem. I think some people are automatically super organised. I was probably somewhere in the middle, probably more organised now. I think the issue is in a lot of academia, you just figure it out as you go. And some people develop brilliant habits and some people, including myself, bad and good. And other people develop really bad habits. And that just carries on.

I sometimes look at Retraction Watch to see what’s in, and there is this really interesting example of an American paper, an American guy who posted a paper in Psychological Science whose undergraduate student collected the data and then it turns out the entire paper is wrong when someone re-analysed the data and found so many mistakes in it. Of course it has been retracted. Now the professor has said it is the student’s fault [whole story here]. But whoever taught that student data management? If that is the issue and it looks like it, they have taken the eye off the ball. And now without a doubt his other papers will be scrutinised. Clearly, there are bad habits ingrained that he’s been passed on.

And it is not just students, it is people higher up as well. The students have been informed by their own supervisors. So I say to my students: back stuff up, make sure things are organised and I can usually tell without going into their file system. What usually happens, if I ask them for something, a piece of data, it will appear quickly because they know where it is, and that is good enough for me. But if it takes ages, that’s when we end up having a talk saying “What are you actually doing with your data?” because this seems really all over the place. But not every supervisor does that, as that guy proved. He didn’t even seem to look at the data. I am not saying that can happen here; but is not only the students.

David presenting at Data Conversations

Q: What could the University do more to assist Open Data supporters like yourself?

David: I really like the fact that the Library is pushing the fact that you can upload datasets. I know there are not many people from my Department that are doing it…  I think that is really interesting. It is something that I – not necessarily challenge – but I do mention it. I don’t really get why. It is the sort of thing where you are submitting a paper you don’t even have to do it formally. There are journals that don’t have a data policy but I can still through our Pure system link data and paper together. I don’t see how that is a bad thing and that there is a huge effort needed to do that.

Maybe academics say it is just another thing to do? A colleague of mine would always say if they want the data they can always email me. Now that might be true but there are lots of cases when you email academics they never get back to you. The same colleague gets so many emails that they have someone to manage their mails. I take the point that the counter argument is that nobody actually will want to see the data and maybe they won’t. But given how random stuff is… you don’t know.  For, what you publish today it might not be important and then suddenly it is important.

So my answer to the question is I am not exactly sure. There is more support in this institution than in my other, to my memory, in terms of: “this is a place to put my dataset”. One of the courses I was on here about data management as part of the 50 Programme was really useful in the sense that I left thinking from now on I am going to put my data there [into Pure].

Q: Should there be other incentives for opening up research data rather than “doing a good thing”? Should there be more credit for Open Data?

David: Yes, probably. We are always judged, when we do PDRs every year, on how much I published and got this much money. But actually, the data output does have a DOI now and it is citable and it is a contribution that the University is getting from the academic. It is additional effort. So it would be interesting to see what happened if it went as far as maybe not a promotion thing, but … part of good practice. I think the question I would ask academics is: if your data is not there, where are you keeping it long term? Now I am working at another project where data cannot be made open and that is fair enough, but in general I do wonder where all that data is going. There is a duty where it needs to be kept for a certain length of time. I think it is easier to put in there [Pure] then I don’t need to think about it if nothing else. That gives me more comfort.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?

David: I am certainly in support of Open Data but I write more about data visualisation because I like pictures as much as I like data [laughs].

Thanks David for an interesting interview. We hope to do more Data Interviews soon. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments leave them below or email rdm@lancaster.ac.uk.

Data Interview with David Ellis (Part 1)

Part 1 (of two) of a Data Interview with Dr David Ellis (@davidaellis). David is a Lecturer in Computational Social Science and holds a 50th Anniversary Lectureship in Psychology at Lancaster University. David presented at the first Data Conversations on Data Visualization.

This is the first interview of hopefully a series to come about the impact of Open Data on research. The interview was conducted by Hardy Schwamm.

Q: We define Open Data as data that can be freely used, shared and built-on by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose. Open Data is also a way to remove legal and technical barriers to using digital information.  Does that go with your idea of what Open Data is?

David: Yes, I think so. I might add to that: the data is actually useful and fit for purpose. To me it’s one thing to just uploading all that data, make it available. But a lot of time, how useful that is on its own is not quite clear. As a psychologist you can run an experiment and you have a lot of data coming out of a study. You can just dump that data online but is there enough information there for other scientists to use that data and get the results?

Q: So would you say that the usefulness of data depends on what we as librarians call metadata, data about the data?

David: Yes, exactly. The definition you gave earlier is spot on. I would just add you need to make sure it is useful to other people. That might also depend on the audience but there are lots of datasets that people post for papers that are just the raw data. That is useful but to understand how they get from the raw data to the conclusions is an important step. There isn’t always space in publications to make that clear.

Q: My next question you have probably already answered already. What is your interest in Open Data? Do you support it as a principle or because it is useful for your research?

David: I do support it as a matter of principle! I always find it weird, even as a student, that you could have papers published and it was just a “Take our word for it” process. I still find that weird now. So absolutely, I support it as a matter of principle. I think as a scientist it just seems right. The data is the cornerstone of every publication. So if that is not there it seems like a massive omission, unless there is a reason for it not to be there. There are lots of mainstream psychology journals that don’t have any policy on data.

Q: That leads me to my next question: To what extent do researchers in your field Psychology support or embrace a culture Open Data?

David: Psychology does have a culture of it and it is probably growing. I think it is inevitable that this is going to become the standard practice if you look at the way Open Access publishing is going.

Q: Why do you think this is happening?

David: Because I think what is eventually happening is that journals are going to say… Lots of people who are doing it but it is like everything else, particularly if that data is going to be usable it does require a bit more effort on the author’s part to make sure that things are organised and that they have a Data Management Plan. I am not suggesting that lots of people don’t have Data Management Plans but it’s something that if you look at current problems in Social Psychology really that wasn’t being followed. There have been leaks and there have been other problems.

So if I tell you the story last week from a 3rd year student at Glasgow University had spotted errors in a published paper and it was actually errors in the Degrees of freedom. They didn’t need the raw data but the point is that a lot of that could have been sorted if the raw data had been made available. There are lots of little issues that keep coming up.

There is nevertheless still resistance and there are plenty of journals where there really is no policy, certainly the journals for which I review for. At the end, there is no data provided, I don’t know what the policy is. It would be nice if in the future authors could upload raw data but that depends on the journal’s policy and if the journal has a policy.

Q: Where should the push for Open Data come from? From journals, funders or the science community?

David: I think from all! If peer reviewers started asking for data, which I think more are, and I think if more scientists start uploading data as supplementary material as a matter of course then I think journals will start to do that. I guess the other option is that journals will start to be favoured that do provide additional resources. So particularly given how much money places like Elsevier make, what do they actually offer? If they want to sell themselves they could offer lots of things but they don’t seem to be pushing it.

And I appreciate it is very discipline specific, and that came up after my talk at the Data Conversations [on 30 January 2017] some disciplines don’t share data. It has improved massively since I started as a postgrad student. Then it just wasn’t a thing and it has slowly become more of an issue.

Q: Do you think this has to do with skills and knowledge of researchers and PhD students? Do they know how to prepare and share data? Do they know how to use other researchers’ data? Is there something missing?

David: A lot of psychologists are in a kind of hybrid area. They are obviously not statisticians and I do wonder if there is a bit of a concern because what if I upload everything, what if somebody finds a mistake? My view is always: I’d rather know that there is a mistake. But I do wonder if people are sometimes sceptical about. Not because they’ve got anything to hide but because they are not a 100 per cent sure sometimes. They understand the result and they know what the numbers mean but we are not mathematicians.

I am just curious that given the numbers of statistical mistakes being flagged up in psychology papers… I am sure I made mistakes myself. I’d just rather know about them. And having the data there means someone can check if they really want to. My view is that I am quite flattered if someone that bothered to go and re-run my analysis. They are obviously reading it!

The interview with David will be continued in Part 2 which you can find here.