In the news

Data in the News: ProPublica and the U.S. Health and Retirement Study

As the year winds down and we all recover from the busy holiday season, ProPublica published an article on the ways in which employers push older U.S. workers out of their jobs. The article, “If You’re Over 50, Chances Are The Decision to Leave a Job Won’t be Yours,” by Peter Gosselin uses data from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study (HRS) from the University of Michigan. Gosselin refers to HRS as the “premier source of quantitative information about aging in America,” as it provides longitudinal data about 20,000 people in the United States from the age of 50 and older.

The NYU Data Catalog includes datasets collected outside of NYU (e.g. by the U.S. Census Bureau or by other universities) in order to help researchers locate datasets that they may not otherwise know about. The HRS is an one of the external datasets included in the NYU Data Catalog, and two faculty members act as local experts on the dataset for other researchers at NYU. While not all instances of the Data Catalog include local experts, at NYU we include information on researchers who have already worked on a dataset in order to encourage collaboration at the institution. Local experts are institutional researchers with experience using the dataset who agree to help guide researchers as they decide whether a dataset can answer their questions or provide meaningful information.

What the ProPublica article demonstrates (as well as the many articles in PubMed that feature the dataset) is that a single dataset can be used to investigate a wide variety of questions, if the analysis is done properly. For example, while Gosselin uses the dataset to investigate how U.S. workers are pushed out of their jobs and the financial ramifications of this practice, Virginia Chang, a researcher in the College of Global Public Health at NYU, has used it to investigate the effects of obesity on the survival rates of common acute illnesses.

The Data Catalog was designed to increase cross-disciplinary research and collaboration, and Gosselin’s article illustrates how research data can benefit the public when many people with different areas of expertise have access to it.