A synthetic dataset primer for the biobehavioural sciences to promote reproducibility and hypothesis generation


Open research data provide considerable scientific, societal, and economic benefits. However, disclosure risks can sometimes limit the sharing of open data, especially in datasets that include sensitive details or information from individuals with rare disorders. This article introduces the concept of synthetic datasets, which is an emerging method originally developed to permit the sharing of confidential census data. Synthetic datasets mimic real datasets by preserving their statistical properties and the relationships between variables. Importantly, this method also reduces disclosure risk to essentially nil as no record in the synthetic dataset represents a real individual. This practical guide with accompanying R script enables biobehavioural researchers to create synthetic datasets and assess their utility via the synthpop R package. By sharing synthetic datasets that mimic original datasets that could not otherwise be made open, researchers can ensure the reproducibility of their results and facilitate data exploration while maintaining participant privacy.