The Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) recently welcomed Professor Yi (Daniel) Xu to the SSRI team where he oversees the Triangle Research Data Center (TRDC). The TRDC consists of one secure computer laboratory, located at Gross Hall, where researchers can perform statistical analysis on non-public microdata from the Census Bureau’s economic and demographic censuses and surveys.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I am currently a Professor of Economics at Duke University and also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. This is my tenth academic year at Duke. My research expertise is the analysis of firm and industry performance using large-scale micro-level data. In particular, I contributed to the understanding of the key determinants of firm dynamics and innovation as well as their implication for aggregate economic development and growth. My work is highly empirical and often involves the use of novel data sources from a broad range of countries in addition to the U.S.
Why economics? Why Duke?
I believe Economics is fundamentally a subject about people. I like Economics because it provides a quite systematic framework for us to think about various important social phenomena, such as how we engage in the production process, how individuals interact in the marketplace, and how we organize ourselves into different forms of governance. To that extent, Economics is rigorous but also highly versatile.
Duke is obviously an excellent academic institution on multiple fronts. But for me, the most attractive part is a highly collegial Economics department, where we encourage works that break the boundaries of narrow disciplines and make fundamental contributions to push the frontier.
What interests you about data?
As my work is very much empirical, data is often one of the most important piece of my research. But more generally, I believe high quality data is the necessary condition for any scientific inquiries. On the other hand, the data does not speak for itself. One of the more interesting parts of our work as social science researchers is to interpret the data through the lens of our own narratives.
As an economist, what excites you about interdisciplinary research?
I believe Economics has the potential to be highly interdisciplinary. One of the exciting aspects of Economics is that we model and investigate individual behaviors. (Even firms are no more than just a technology that organize people collectively.) Economics has been evolving in terms of its methodology over the past decades, often borrowing heavily from scientific fields like math, stats, and engineering. But I believe at the core it shares the most fundamental topics with other social science disciplines for queries of technology, people, and our society.
How is the TRDC an important resource for Duke faculty, researchers, and students?
Great question. Part of the reason that I agreed to direct the TRDC is exactly its potential of engaging a broad range of Duke faculty, researchers, and students. The TRDC houses the confidential U.S. Census micro data, which are the building blocks for most of the public social and economic indicators. A potentially less known fact is that TRDC also hosts projects using non-public data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. These all substantially broaden the potential user base and purpose of the projects that can be conducted within the center. While these data all provide exciting research opportunities, they often require a somewhat cumbersome application process. One of our primary task here is to promote the utilization of this unique resource and help our Duke community to smooth out the access process as much as possible.
Our more ambitious long-run goal is to leverage on the unique position of TRDC and provide a platform for our faculty, researchers, and students to exchange ideas and build up collaborative projects. The fact that our data spans across a broad range of subjects like demography, firms, and health also would make these collaborations potentially interdisciplinary by definition.
Originally posted on the Social Science Research Institute website