Technical skills and openness go together

Dr Nikos Askitas talks about his experience with Open Science

Photo of Dr Nikos Askitas

Three key learnings:

  • Technical skills are useful for Open Science.
  • Transparent science encourages response.
  • Economists who aim to be policy consultants bear a special responsibility.

What are your positive experiences in the context of Open Science?

NA: For me, Open Science is not a tool kit for promoting my academic career, but a fundamental conviction. Open Science shows how science – and especially economics – should be done in the digital age. Empirical research which has the potential to affect human lives must be transparent. That is my firm conviction. We as economists have a special responsibility here. That is why I support Open Science infrastructures such as PLOS ONE as Academic Editor in Economics. I am a pluralist rooted in theoretical mathematics, technology and economics, and it is important to me to have an outlet where only the results of research count, not the “right” credentials. Of course I make my own datasets and codes openly available for re-use, in our own IZA Research Data Center (IDSC).

What are the benefits you derive from publishing papers, datasets and source codes?

NA: If I limit this observation strictly to my own work, I can say that I receive responses which often help me to see my research in a greater context. If I look a little further, then openness defines me as a researcher. In these Covid-19 times I would say: I feel more systemically relevant.

What is the role you see for Open Science in postgraduate education?

NA: I mostly teach Python and Stata to PhD candidates. I openly share my source code for classes and my knowledge. For instance, I have written two modules for Stata-Python integration as teaching material for a Stata/Python workshop which I have deposited with RePEc: a Stata module for  for retrieving stock quotes named Stockquote and another Stata module called Louvain for finding communities. Now all can benefit from this. The Stockquote module has been downloaded 463 times already. I also believe it is enormously important that PhD candidates see Open Science practised. Because then it becomes normal practice for them to share data and source codes. Generally I have been observing over the last years that the higher someone’s technical skills set, the higher their affinity with openness. The current generation of PhD candidates have enormously increased their technical skills.

Where do you see the biggest effects of transparent science for yourself?

NA: If economic research is so close to societal problems that it actually enters politics, I consider it has fulfilled its mission and its responsibility. Let me explain this with an anecdote: In 2015, I published a paper on “Calling the Greek referendum on the nose with Google Trends”. Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, asked my permission to use one of my figures in a talk in Rio de Janeiro. Ultimately, as a consequence of this I was invited to be keynote speaker at a nowcasting conference of the Argentinian Central Bank. The conference resulted from the “Billion Prices Project” which, by means of data publicly available on the internet, uncovered the manipulation of inflation rates in Argentina. This is an example of how cutting-edge research has a high impact on policy consulting. Open Science matters.

The interview was conducted on November 2, 2020.

About Dr Nikos Askitas

Nikos Askitas has been working at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) since 2000. As a mathematician, data scientist and economist, he studies new approaches for research and policy in the field of labour economics and of social sciences in general. He also heads the research data centre at IZA (IDSC) and is responsible for all data- and technology-relevant issues. He advocates a larger role for technical skills in postgraduate education and firmly believes that competent young talent will bring about Open Science.




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