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February 17, 2007

ICPSR: The Netflix of Social Science Data

Yesterday at work I spent a couple of hours helping our webmistress Wendi do some user testing of the new ICPSR website. She found two people who were not terribly familiar with ICPSR or the website, brought them in, and we watched them do various tasks on the new website to see how easy it is for users to find various types of information. One of the users commented that the link to log into MyData was difficult to find up in the right hand corner of the page, to which Wendi replied that the login link was modeled after the Netflix website, where it is also in the top right corner. Modeling our website after the Netflix site seemed particularly apt to me because ICPSR is pretty much the Netflix of social science data. Wanna see the 2000 Census? Or the most recent wave of the General Social Survey? Just log into ICPSR and download it. But ICPSR is better than Netflix because you never have to send the data back!

Since we are the Netflix of data, our data turns up everywhere. Yesterday the topic of Science Friday was the 1990s decline in the crime rate. And how did the criminologists on the show know that crime had declined? From analyzing the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), courtesy of ICPSR. Pretty much any survey or study of anything social- or political-sciencey, or any kind of census or opinion poll you hear cited anywhere is archived at ICPSR. But nobody has ever heard of ICPSR because we never get cited. Janet Lauritsen, one of the criminologists on SciFri yesterday, mentioned the NCVS, and mentioned that the data was collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, but never mentioned the fact that scholars can get this data from ICPSR. My first job at ICPSR was finding publications that had been based on ICPSR data, which was pretty easy for the publications whose authors actually cite ICPSR, but for every one author who does, there are several more who don't. So if ICPSR is the Netflix of social science data, we are the underground Netflix of social science data -- you have to be in the know in order to know where to go.

Posted by eklanche at February 17, 2007 06:59 PM


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