Capturing Data Provenance from Statistical Software

  • George Charles Alter University of Michigan
  • Jack Gager Metadata Technology North America Inc.
  • Pascal Heus Metadata Technology North America Inc.
  • Carson Hunter Metadata Technology North America Inc.
  • Sanda Ionescu University of Michigan
  • Jeremy Iverson Colectica
  • H.V. Jagadish University of Michigan
  • Jared Lyle University of Michigan
  • Alexander Mueller University of Michigan
  • Sigve Nordgaard Norwegian Centre for Research Data
  • Ornulf Risnes Norwegian Centre for Research Data
  • Dan Smith Colectica
  • Jie Song University of Michigan


We have created tools that automate one of the most burdensome aspects of documenting the provenance of research data: describing data transformations performed by statistical software.  Researchers in many fields use statistical software (SPSS, Stata, SAS, R, Python) for data transformation and data management as well as analysis.  The C2Metadata ("Continuous Capture of Metadata for Statistical Data") Project creates a metadata workflow paralleling the data management process by deriving provenance information from scripts used to manage and transform data.  C2Metadata differs from most previous data provenance initiatives by documenting transformations at the variable level rather than describing a sequence of opaque programs.  Command scripts for statistical software are translated into an independent Structured Data Transformation Language (SDTL), which serves as an intermediate language for describing data transformations.   SDTL can be used to add variable-level provenance to data catalogues and codebooks and to create "variable lineages" for auditing software operations.   Better data documentation makes research more transparent and expands the discovery and re-use of research data.

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