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Tools and Apps

OECD Factbook for iPhone, data visualization tools, new American Factfinder, entries focused on the container rather than the content

Statistical Associates Publishing

Statistical Associates Publishing is a website that offers guides focused primarily on correctly executing various statistical techniques. The guides are short and provide screenshots and step-by-step instructions for for some of the major commercial statistical packages. One can buy the books - each at very low prices $5USD or less per book from Amazon - or request a free copy from the publisher with some reasonable restrictions on use.

I should note that since I don't spend much time doing statistics myself, I feel a bit unqualified to attest to the quality of the materials. However, I'm a pretty good judge of user guides in general (having created a lot of really bad ones over the years) and I was able to glean some information from Amazon reviews and from researching the publisher himself. Therefore, I feel pretty confident in what I say below, but do take it with a grain of salt. 

The publisher is G. David Garson. In addition to what he shares at the Statistical Associates website, he continues to publish pretty regularly and co-authored at least one entry in the Springer International Encyclopedia of Statistical Science (Toma, Roxana, and G. David Garson. "Research Designs." International Encyclopedia of Statistical Science. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2011. 1224-1227.)

The guides themselves are straightforward, understandable to the novice and most importantly, given that they include software-specific instructions, updated often. The use of screenshots to supplement written instructions is always a good idea as it helps the user orient herself and breaks up blocks of instructions. Most Amazon reviews were positive and the overriding theme was that the works are concise and good for users at different levels. One complaint from some reviewers however, was while the books help users figure out specific techniques or steps in the major commercial tools, they didn't necessarily tell you why you should use that technique. So, good for novices, apparently yes, but users with no exposure to statistics at all? Probably not.

An open question is whether these books would do more for a user than simply finding a similar video on YouTube. Again, I don't feel qualified to answer this from a content perspective, but I do think it's nice to have alternatives to video presentations for those who learn best from written instructions.

Libraries may purchase the collection as a package - the cost is extremely low - but I'm not sure how urgent the need would be. Much of the site is pitched to instructors and it seems to make more sense to view these books as supplementary course readings when the course involves working with particular statistical techniques. So as a possible source of low-cost course materials, Statistical Associates Publishing is probably a good source.

 

Update from the publisher:

I posed a few questions in my original post and the publisher responded as summarized next.

Statistical Associates does aim for introductory graduate students and, relative to YouTube, they vouch for their accuracy. Dr. Garson also made an interesting observation that "...most researchers use a single package and therefore never have occasion to cross-verify results with different packages. It is very common for researchers using the default settings on different packages to come to different results. We not only provide worked SPSS, SAS, and Stata solutions, but we reconcile them. It is very hard to find that information elsewhere on the net." 

Certainly, in other contexts I've seen users go with defaults across programs and end up confused. This particular characteristic seems like an excellent reason for keeping this reource in mind when working with your students/users.

Informal Review of Thomson-Reuters Data Citation Index

The Thomson-Reuters Data Citation Index (DCI) has been up and running for just over a year. The University of Minnesota (UMN) had a trial of the database when the DCI first launched, but because so little of the database was populated at that time, it was hard to assess it completely. We felt that after a year, it would be worthwhile to revisit it. The initial annual subscrption prices were significant. The UMN's initial quote in late 2012 was over $20,000/year. The Like many universities, when we consider new acquisitions, it's always in light of what we'd have to cancel since at best, our budgets remain flat. Therefore, a potential new acquisition has to not just be good, but a better use of our funds than what we already have.

What makes the DCI interesting is that puts datasets and journal literature into a single platform, namely Thomson-Reuter's Web of Science (WoS). Within the overall WoS, there is a core collection that constitutes the default search for subscribers. We know from our own statistics as well as vendor supplied statistics that our users do indeed go to WoS. We know that there is use of specialized databases for datasets like ICPSR's archive, but the volume of use is much lower. If we had a single tool that made it easy for researchers to just search - without having to worry about what they're searching - we believe that we'd see an increase in use of datasets as primary research inputs and greater acceptance of them as primary research outputs. So, that became our standard for measuring the DCI: how has Thomson-Reuters integrated DCI content into the WoS platform and is that integration strong enough to allow researchers to just search? Is the DCI part of the core collection? If not, do the links at the record level between datasets and articles provide an adequate substitute? So far, for the UMN, the answer is no, the integration isn't strong enough to make the DCI a compelling subscription. It's not part of the core collection nor do the links at the record level appear to be robust enough to compensate for its absence from the core collection.

All of that said, the database itself has a number of nice features and shows tremendous potential. I gathered my notes from the UMN's first trial in late 2012 and our current trial at "Thomson Reuters Data Citation Index". They are informal notes and it's possible I may have gotten some things wrong. Working with trial versions of databases can be difficult I welcome comments and corrections!

DDI-XSLT -transform you DDI to XHTML, MARC, PDF

With DDI-XSLT you can tranform your DDI-lifeccle XML to other formats including:

  • DDI 1.2.2 (nesstar)
  • XHTML
  • MARC-XML
  • Datacite metadata
  • PDF codebooks

Demo site for transformations
Google code page

The R Guide to ESDS Large-Scale Government Surveys

ESDS Government has produced a new guide, The R Guide to ESDS Large-Scale Government Surveys. The aim of this guide is to provide an introduction to analysing large scale government surveys with the help of the R statistical software package. 

The guide focuses on providing step-by-step examples of common operations most users carry out in the course of their research: how to open data sets, do basic data manipulation operations, produce simple descriptive statistics or weighted contingency tables.

It should be noted however that this guide is not an introduction to R. Beginners should use it in conjunction with one of the more comprehensive guides available online. Links and information about R resources are available at the end of the guide, which is available from http://www.esds.ac.uk/government/resources/analysis/

Podcast about "Numeric data services and sources for the general reference librarian" by Lynda Kellam & Katharin Peter

Lynda Kellam & Katharin Peter, two IASSIST members, recently published their book on how to be a data librarian:

Kellam, L. M., & Peter, K. (2011). Numeric data services and sources for the general reference librarian. Oxford: Chandos Publishing. 

Earlier this summer, Lynda discussed the book, data, data literacy and instruction with the folks at "Adventures in Library Instruction".

Highly recommended!

US Department of Labor Tools for Application Development

From the US Department of Labor's developer.dol.gov website comes an initial set of datasets and mobile SDKs to support the creation of 3rd party interfaces for Department of Labor data.

To use the data, you need to go to  https://webapps.dol.gov/developer to register and get keys for the data. In the initial offering are 

The Department of Labor has also released SDKs for all of the major mobile platforms:

The Department says that they will be releasing additional datasets as time goes by. So, go forth and create!

Geospatial Data Preservation Resource Center

A new Web site, the Geospatial Data Preservation Resource Center, aims to help those responsible for producing and managing geospatial data learn about the latest approaches and tools available to facilitate long-term geospatial data preservation and access. The Web site provides descriptions and links for a variety of relevant resources, including education and training modules, useful tools and software, information on policies and standards for preserving geospatial data, and examples of successful preservation and associated benefits. This first release of the Web site, which CIESIN will be enhancing over the next year, was developed as an element of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) of the Library of Congress.

World Bank Results At A Glance - iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch

The World Bank has developed an iPhone/iPad/etc application called "World Bank Results at a Glance". These results are indicators related to either UN Millenium Development Goals (where the World Bank has partnered with the UN) or outcomes from exclusively World Bank projects.

The application has 450 indicators for 85 countries. Users can

  • Search and browse over 450 results profiles by
  • country name or coordinates
  • more than 30 topics
  • over 300 keywords, including “roads,” “food security,” “job creation,” and more
  • Millennium Development Goals
  • Save and share stories
  • View a graphic timeline of key World Bank results and milestones
  • Read relevant background about the World Bank’s results initiatives
  • See Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Bank itself, shedding light on the modern workings of the institution
  • Gain access to multiple PDFs in multiple languages related to quick results facts, country statistics, and background on the Bank’s initiatives, all exportable to iBooks
  • View project images and videos

This tool joins three other World Bank applications which cover indicators (DataFinder), nformation (InfoFinder) and doing business around the world (Doing Business at a Glance). All are free via the iTunes store.

As the owner of an Android phone & an iPad who works in an office in which wireless signals go to die, I have mixed feelings about and limited experience with these applications. I suspect I'd find an Android version of all of the applications useful as I use my phone for both work and personal purposes. If it were easy to do so, I'd probably answer reference questions using a World Bank application from my phone.

My iPad is a purely personal toy which is why I have yet to try any of these tools on it - watching movies, reading books and playing Civilization all come first there. However, the iPad, with a bigger screen, might well be a good match to data displays.

An interesting element in the Results application is the "Random" feature. Since I'm working from screenshots, I'm not entirely sure of the function, but then, even if I had the software installed, I still would question the usefulness of the "Random" results feature. If there's one thing that mobile technology supports, it's task-driven activities and a random result doesn't seem to fit that model. On the other hand, I also spent a half an hour poking around an application for the US Congress last night with no particular purpose or task in mind. It's entirely possible that the target audience for this application is just as likely as I am to engage in similarly non-task-driven explorations.

I hope that the World Bank continues its admirable efforts to walk the walk on open data - by not just making it free online with multiple methods of access for all kinds of users, but also available across user devices. I also hope that they begin to release Android-compatible applications so that more of us can make use of the data in more contexts.

United States National Center for Education Statistics DataLab

The National Center for Education Statistics' (NCES) Datalab, introduced earlier this year by the United States Department of Education, provides a user-friendly entry to NCES data.  The home page, linked above, links to

  • QuickStats for users of summary data needing quick tables or charts (requires click-through agreement to terms of use)
  • PowerStats for users of microdata needing to run linear and logistic regressions (requires free user registration)
  • Library for users looking for prepared summary tables
  • Links to the Restricted-Use Data Procedures Manual

NCES also promises to soon make available tables already created via the QuickStats and PowerStats tools which would be potentially the most powerful aspect of the Datalab.

OECD Factbook 2010 for iPhone

The OECD has created an iPhone app for the OECD Factbook

From the site "The OECD Factbook App presents 100 economic indicators in a format specially designed for your iPhone. Now, wherever you are, you have easy access to a comprehensive statistical picture of the world’s major economies from the most reliable source: OECD.

The OECD Factbook is organised around 12 themes such as population and migration, macroeconomic trends, and globalization. Each indicator includes a table showing the latest available data for the 30 OECD countries. When available, it also shows data from countries with which the OECD has close co-operation such as Brazil, Russian Federation, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa."

Additional features are the price: free and the French-language version.  I'll be curious to see how this application is used - the best thing about users is that they almost always surprise you with the way they use the tools available to them.

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