New NIH Data Management and Sharing Policy

The thud you might have heard yesterday was NIH dropping a new Data Management and Sharing Policy. It won’t go into effect until 2023-01-25 but the policy has so many ramifications that I don’t plan to waste time in preparing.

I’m going to do a short overview of initial thoughts here. I expect that I’ll be working through all of the nuances more in the weeks to come.

Here are the highlights for how this policy effects researchers:

  • All NIH grants will be required to have a 2-page maximum data management plan (DMP). NIH expects researchers to: be clear in the DMP about where they plan to share (“to be determined” is no longer acceptable), notify them if plans change, and actually follow the plan.
  • You will be sharing more data, as NIH not only wants the data that underlies publications but all data that verifies results.
  • You will be sharing data sooner. NIH prefers if you share as soon as possible, but at the latest sharing should occur with publication or at the end of the grant period, which ever comes first. That last part is a huge change.
  • You will share your data in a repository. Criteria for data repositories are provided in a supplement and I expect to see more in this area between now and 2023.
  • You can ask for money to support data management and sharing activities, including pre-paying for long-term hosting of open data.
  • If you conduct data on people, sharing expectations are changing. NIH really wants researchers to fine-tune the balance between sharing and privacy. Two mechanisms explicitly called out are outlining sharing practices during informed consent and controlled data sharing, even for de-identified data. This is another area where I want to see more development.
  • If you are doing research on indigenous populations, you must respect Tribal sovereignty. This is a great addition to the policy.

I think this is a good policy, though it’s definitely overdue. I don’t love the lack of clarity around retention times and I’m not sure how I feel about review of DMPs shifting from peer reviewers to program officers. But these are minor quibbles in what I think is a pretty solid policy.

The biggest takeaways is that this policy represents a shift in expectations for data sharing. It has stronger requirements than the NSF data policy and will really move things forward. Some people are going to hate it and it’s going to be a big adjustment, but it’s a win for reproducibility and open data.

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Foundational Practices of Research Data Management

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that one of my goals is for all researchers to adopt the basic data management practices that make conducting research easier. I’ve written a whole book on data management, done videos, created checklists, written numerous blog posts, etc., but it will never be enough until researchers are regularly taught these skills. Until that point, I’ll keep sending the gospel of data out in the world in different formats, hoping to reach new audiences.

My latest iteration of educating about the principles of data management is in the form of a research article in RIO. I really like the article format because it’s just enough space to provide a broad overview of the basic data management practices. And if readers want to learn more, we’ve provided a handy list of citations!

The new article covers 10 practices of data management that my coauthors and I consider to be foundational:

  • Practice 1: Keep sufficient documentation
  • Practice 2: Organize files and name them consistently
  • Practice 3: Version the Files
  • Practice 4: Create a security plan, when applicable
  • Practice 5: Define roles and responsibilities
  • Practice 6: Back up the data
  • Practice 7: Identify tool constraints
  • Practice 8: Close out the project
  • Practice 9: Put the data in a repository
  • Practice 10: Write these conventions down [in a data management plan]

This is by no means the complete scope of data management but rather a good introduction. Honestly, if you implement all ten practices into your research, you’re going to be doing very well with your data.

So if you or a peer are looking for a general introduction to research data management, check out my new article “Foundational Practices of Research Data Management.”

Citation: Briney KA, Coates H, Goben A (2020) Foundational Practices of Research Data Management. Research Ideas and Outcomes 6: e56508.

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Book Review: How Charts Lie

How Charts Lie cover image

Continuing in my pandemic reading of data books, next up is “How Charts Lie: Getting Smarter about Visual Information” by Alberto Cairo. (I didn’t plan to be a predominately book review blog, but I need a way to channel the pandemic anxiety, so here we are.)

This book is a little different than other visualization books I’ve been reading because it focuses on visual literacy (which Cairo calls “graphicacy”) instead of chart design. Because charts appear by their nature more authoritative (they show “facts” and make such information easy to understand), we need to train ourselves to critically assess the information displayed. This book provides the framework for an individual to engage with and dissect the charts we regularly see in the news and on social media and decide what’s accurate.

Cairo uses his experience as a chart designer and chart consumer to break down the major ways that charts lie. Each type of lie gets covered in its own chapter in the book:

  • Poor design
  • Displaying dubious data
  • Displaying insufficient data
  • Concealing or confusing uncertainty
  • Suggesting misleading patterns

You’ll notice that these mistakes aren’t all about chart design; many chart issues concern the data that’s being visualized, including everything from displaying percentages instead of absolute numbers on a map to vetting data sources. Cairo provides ways to think through the many mistakes that are made in data selection, because even the prettiest and easiest-to-read chart can lie to us by getting the data wrong .

What’s nice about the book is that it doesn’t assume that charts are intentionally lying to us. Sometimes designers make honest mistakes and sometimes trade-offs have to be made. Cairo walks the reader through exemplar visualizations and shows us how different choices affect the accuracy and design of the chart. By discussing the data selection and visualization decision process as well as showing how these choices affect the final design, Cairo provides the reader with the mental scaffolding to critically assess charts.

As with any data book, Cairo uses plenty of examples throughout this book. What I found interesting is how many of these examples were drawn from recent politics; the book actually starts by dissecting a graphic that Donald Trump shared in April 2017. While I appreciate the American cultural touchstones (and it’s nice to rage at some of the bad charts we’ve seen in recent years), I do worry that this book will lose some of its relevance over time.

Overall, this is a good book for any information consumer to read and will also help visualization designers learn to avoid pitfalls and assess design trade-offs. I would also recommend it to my fellow librarians who do information literacy instruction; the visual literacy discussed in this book is a perfect compliment to the work we’re already doing with students around assessing text-based resources.

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Project Close Out Checklist for Research Data

Researchers tend to think about data management at key times during a project, such as when writing a data management plan for grant funding and when preparing for data collection. But there’s one other critical time for data management in the project lifecycle: when a project ends and/or a researcher leaves the project.

I’ve actually blogged about project close out twice before (here and here) because it’s an area where I’ve had my own successes and failures. I’ve lost data in projects where I didn’t do data close out and have saved myself several large headaches on projects where I did close out. But here’s the important thing: project close out isn’t actually that difficult, it’s just that there is hardly any guidance on how to do it.

Enter the “Project Close Out Checklist for Research Data“! Born out of a discussion with Jonathan Petters and Abigail Goben at the RDAP Summit in 2020, this checklist describes a range of activities for helping ensure that research data are properly managed at the end of a project. Activities include: making stewardship decisions, preparing files for archiving, sharing data, and setting aside important files in a “FINAL” folder.

Two versions of the checklist are available: a Caltech Library branded version and a generic editable version. I’m sharing the checklist under a CC BY license, so please reuse and remix with attribution.

My hope is that this checklist will help researchers be able to use their data well into the future!

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