How Big Data is Rewriting Academic Reporting Guidelines


A couple of weeks ago, scientific America published in insightful article about the impact of big data on academia. Catherine Brooks, the author of the piece, meet the bold claim that picked out is changing research guidelines in educational institutions across the world.

What is the impact of big data? What new rules need to be implemented to preserve the integrity of academic research, while taking full advantage of new data? Here are some things to consider.

Data authentication may supersede data volume

Brooks points out that a growing number of researchers are taking advantage of social media data. Facebook posts can be a treasure trove of information for social scientists.

However, they must be cautious when analyzing it. They must have a system to verify the following:

  • Whether or not the demographic data for the accounts is genuine. This has proved to be a very valid concern in recent months, since a growing number of trolls have begun infiltrating social media communities.
  • How authentic the posts are.Anybody can post something on social media. Some people may simply post content that they feel their peers will be receptive too. People may suppress views they feel their friends don’t agree with and make statements that they don’t genuinely believe to get validation from their social media followers.
  • The depth and diversity of the social networks of various posters. Add a casual glance, social media user that shares a post with lots of likes may create the perception that the message behind that post is well received. However, it could simply be that they have a large network of like-minded people. The same post from her use her with a much smaller base of followers that had more heterogenous views probably wouldn’t get the same attention.

Validating this information can be a challenge, but is also clearly necessary.

Outlining new research ethics guidelines will be a complex challenge

Research ethics are evolving quickly in the age of big data. The federal government has always had strict guidelines on protecting research subjects. However, they have actually tapered them back for researchers depending on online surveys, social media content and other big data sources.

In the absence of clear federal guidelines, academics must establish their own approach to research ethics in the age of big data. They must weigh the consequences of sharing data on individuals with or without their knowledge.

Understand consent requirements under regional data protection guidelines

Customer privacy is becoming a growing concern in many parts of the world. Many regional governments are instituted new privacy protection guidelines to protect their constituents.

The European Union has adopted one of the strictest set of data privacy policies. The Global Data Protection Requirement, which went into effect in May 2018, has a number of data policy changes that researchers and organizations around the world must be aware of. It stipulates that anyone collecting data on a European citizen must get their explicit consent first. They must also make them aware of the type of data they have at their request. Finally, the law requires them to destroy all copies of the data at the individual’s request.

Even academic researchers are not immune to these policies, unless they work for a public university that has access to government data that is exempt. They must be aware of the guidelines and follow them carefully. The good news is that many new cloud storage solutions and warehouses are compliant with these new data protection policies.

Academic Guidelines will Continue to Evolve with Advances in Big Data

Big data is changing the future of academia in a number of ways. Researchers are using big data in fascinating ways, but they must be prepared for adapt their research guidelines accordingly.