What SSRN Means When We Talk About Data Integrity

In the aftermath of GDPR going into effect “data integrity” might sound like a casual phrase tossed around a conference room to explain why companies cannot or should not send emails to lists scraped off the internet (among other things).

By the estimates of SSRN’s senior staff members, however, data integrity is something we’ve been working to ensure for approximately 15 years. To SSRN, data integrity is neither a new concept, nor one having to do with email harvesting. It has everything to do with ensuring the download statistics and other analytics available to our authors are accurate.

In order to address dishonest activity in the early years of SSRN, wherein download counts were inappropriately inflated, we quickly implemented a safe-guard to protect SSRN rankings and the authors and organizations listed there. We use cues for irregular activity to ensure downloads are being accurately counted. We know from experience that inaccurate data can be detrimental to authors who rely on that information to prove an increase in research performance.

Over the years we’ve received a variety of feedback from SSRN researchers regarding our data integrity message. Rest assured that our commitment to researchers has always governed our decisions on how SSRN is run. That is why we don’t allow data integrity to interfere with a researcher’s access to SSRN’s eLibrary. Instead, it dictates the legitimacy of a download in the author’s count, which contributes to ranking.

Anonymous Downloads

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that as a research repository we want people to take advantage of our eLibrary. We’re extremely proud of the volume of papers we hold, the diversity of those papers, and the number of authors we attract; by constantly growing we know we have something for everyone. That’s why we don’t refuse downloads. Even a user who absolutely does not want to create an SSRN account will have the option to download anonymously.

The anonymous download button will allow you to make a download without logging in, even if there does happen to be some activity that our site relegates as “suspicious”. However, in this case, the download won’t count toward the author’s total downloads or the downloads for that paper.

We take these precautions to create a fair environment for authors. While we know that the vast majority of SSRN’s site visitors are browsing the eLibrary to take advantage of the open access papers hosted there, the harsh reality is that some people will skew the data if they can.

We’ve seen bots sent to auto-download papers , authors repeatedly downloading their own paper, and people who make random downloads trying to rig the rankings. In a world driven by data there’s always someone who wants to tip the scale. Our data integrity system prevents these attempts from counting among legitimate downloads, while ensuring that any user who clicks for the full text is not denied.

Yes, We Want You to Log In

Our commitment is always to researchers, but that doesn’t mean we’re disinterested in anything beyond the basic “here’s your paper. Now on your way.” Of course, we want users to create an account to make downloads. We want to instill enough value in our services that you choose to come back again. By using a free account on SSRN you give us the chance to provide you with a more customized research experience that we would otherwise be unable to provide.

Your free account lets you subscribe to eJournals of your choosing. That way we can deliver new papers to your inbox and help keep you updated on new research in your field. You can save papers to read later with your “My Library” feature.

Maybe you’ll even upload a paper of your own with the account! Those papers can be added to the rankings and the papers can be distributed in eJournal. Yes, we want to know who our site users are so that we can count them toward legitimately boosting authors’ rankings, but it’s more than that! We want everyone to get the most out of an experience with SSRN.

The Take Away

Data has become a buzz word in the academic community, but to us it’s much more than that. Rankings aren’t just a vanity; they provide valuable information for measuring impact. Our early response to inappropriate skewing of metrics is still serving SSRN and our users well after more than a decade.

With the same goal in mind, we’ve gone on to include even more analytics per paper that can help researchers. In the world of scholarship, there is simply too much at stake to mess around with meaningless downloads.

So, when SSRN gives you your download count you can rest assured that those downloads don’t merely represent the casual glance of of a phish. They represent interested readers, contributing to author impact. We didn’t need any other reason to pay attention to the integrity of data available on SSRN; it’s is just our integrity at work.

What do you think of the Anonymous Download feature? How do you use SSRN downloads? Let us know in the comments or with #SSRN on Twitter.

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