Gary King on future data-richness in the social sciences

Gary King (Harvard social scientist, statistician and R-magician extraordinaire) published a piece in the journal Science earlier this year that provided some philosophical and methodological grounding for the future of data usage for social scientific inference. In it he puts forth the idea that social science is at the cusp of the ability to study human society as never before.

Analogous to what it must have been like when they first handed out microscopes to microbiologists, social scientists are getting to the point in many areas at which enough information exists to understand and address major previously intractable problems that affect human society.

King, correctly in my opinion, supports the idea that if privacy is adequately protected we can take advantage of new (sometimes digital, sometimes not) data, facilitate data sharing and replication and gain inferential powers that have hardly been seen in our field. The whole piece is worth reading (much shorter and much more consumable than most academic articles) and the PDF link is provided here.

On a tangential note, with the recent controversy over illegal spread and usage of academic articles, namely the arrest of Aaron Swartz, I think one solution might be for researchers to publish their pieces on their personal/professional websites. This might come with some backlash from journals and I'm not exactly sure what the ownership rights over a published piece in a journal are, but most researchers have their own sites these days, and this might serve as a good compromise until we can figure out a better solution.

Edit: Here's a great with Julian Sanchez and Timothy B. Lee about the Aaron Swartz controversy, and IP issues at large.