Policy ForumReproducibility

Certify reproducibility with confidential data

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Science  12 Jul 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6449, pp. 127-128
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw2825

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Many government data, such as sensitive information on individuals' taxes, income, employment, or health, are available only to accredited users within a secure computing environment. Though they can be cumbersome to access, such microdata can allow researchers to pursue questions that could not be addressed with only public data (1). However, researchers using confidential data are inexorably challenged with regard to research reproducibility (2). Empirical results cannot be easily reproduced by peers and journal referees, as access to the underpinning data are restricted. We describe an approach that allows researchers who analyze confidential data to signal the reproducibility of their research. It relies on a certification process conducted by a specialized agency accredited by the confidential-data producers and which can guarantee that the code and the data used by a researcher indeed produce the results reported in a scientific paper.