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What is Empirical Legal Studies
Empirical Legal Studies in Taiwan
Types od Data and Databases
The Importance of Empirical Databases
Types of Data and Databases

The concept of “empirical legal data” may be divided into several types including empirical legal materials, empirical legal information, catalogued empirical legal data, and empirical legal databases.  Of these, the most important types are naturally empirical legal data generated from surveys and empirical legal databases which are searchable and offer data analysis functions. 

 (1) Empirical Materials

These include all physical materials that may provide the basis for empirical research—contracts, official publications, court documents, deeds, chops, etc.  Also included are such modern media as photographs, audiocassettes, various types of electro-magnetic storage; and even engraved stone, bamboo slips and other media that predate paper.

 (2) Empirical Information

This term refers to information obtained by the analysis, statistical manipulation, interpretation, or other processing of raw empirical materials.    Researchers may seek a specific kind of material and explore its legal significance.  And of course, the fact that a particular material is deemed to be of one type or another—a contract, for instance—is also the result of analysis.  Therefore, physical media are, in a sense, vehicles for information.  Without these vehicles—in particular original materials—there is not way to obtain information, but the vehicle is not information in and of itself.

(3) Empirical Data

Empirical Data is a rather vague concept.  It may refer to the aforementioned empirical materials as well as empirical information.  It may also more generally refer to empirical materials and the information contained within them.  By a more precise definition, empirical data is understood to be one kind of empirical information.  It is set apart by its particular structure, in particular its formatting and categorization.  In other words, it is the product of collecting, classifying, and processing a set of information or information-laden materials. The traditional approach is archiving, that is, creating different types of physical files and archives.  With the advent of modern computing, this has been to some extent replaced by digitized files and databases.

Thus, the concept of empirical data may include traditional physical files and archives, as well as digitized files and archives.  The important part is not the form in which materials are collected, but rather the fact that they have been collected and organized—especially through the method of cataloguing.  Empirical data that has been catalogued is then already similar to an empirical database, but there is still a nuanced yet important difference between the two.

 (4) Empirical Database

“Empirical database,” in the broad sense, refers to a catalogued, searchable collection or group of (empirical) data.  A typical example of a traditional database would be the card catalogue of a library.  But in this age of digitization, we can define databases in a more limited fashion: a database is a digitized grouping of data collected and organized in a particular, structured way, and may furthermore be searched or manipulated through logic operations to produce derivative information such as statistical results.  If the information stored in this database is indeed the empirical information mentioned above, then it is an empirical database.  Un-digitized databases, of course, may also yield statistical and other kinds of information through manual means, and are thus of course also a kind of database.  But, these are much less efficient and precise than digitized databases.

If we are to categorize information based on its institutional source, databases can also be divided into those containing judicial data, legislative data, administrative data, legal education-related and scholarly research information, etc.  But, while this sort of classification based on institutional source has its academic significance, it is not overall a significant classification.  More important is the distinction between basic information and derived information.  Basic information refers to any information that may be organized and searched to produce derived information—for instance, digitizing and turning all judicial decisions into a database.  Initially, this set of decisions is basic information, but by further searching and organizing, it will yield different types of derived information, such as different types of statistical information.  One might also compile all of the decisions in which a particular judge participated into a single file.  Furthermore, any set of derived data could be used as basic data for another round of searching and analysis.  Also, one could combine it with other information—for instance, economic or social information—in order to produce more complex and diverse information.  For instance, one might investigate whether on years with high unemployment, the theft and bankruptcy rates have also tended to increase (statistical relevance).
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