A junior researcher's practical take on the why and how of open science.

If you are a social psychologist, it’s probably old news to you that the field is in the midst of a revolution.  As a fifth-year grad student, this is all I have ever known of the field—news of Hauser’s questionable coding broke my first week of graduate school, and Bem’s parapsychology paper and Diederik Stapel followed shortly after. Since then, nearly every conference, Twitterfeed, and paper-writing meeting I’ve experienced has included discussion of QRPs (questionable research practices), replication, the newest retracted article, “bullying”, and the “crisis of confidence.”  It’s easy for a neophyte to feel frustrated and disappointed

However, in part because of all the recent soul searching and outcry, it is also an incredibly exciting time to be a junior social psychology researcher.  There is something about discord that opens up the possibility for change and improving practices that otherwise might keep on being quietly mediocre.  And it is encouraging that, unlike some more senior researchers, nearly every graduate student I have ever spoken with recognizes that as a science we can do better and, importantly, is open to change.

Of course the question remains: how can junior researchers, with minimal power and prestige (yet!), contribute to improving our science?  Certainly we lack the ability to change things in any substantial top-down manner; hell if I’m going to tell senior research advisors (and potential letter writers) that they have to fundamentally change how they think about methods, and I’m pretty sure JPSP would completely ignore my input on its publication practices.  But I propose that one good way for junior researchers to contribute to positively changing the norms of the field—and to reap some positive individual benefits in the meantime—is to practice more open science.

Why open science?

The need for open science has been explicitly acknowledged since at least the 1600s, when the first journals and scientific societies came about, encouraging researchers to publish their findings rather than hide them for personal gain.  When data, procedures, materials, and findings are made open, other researchers are able to stand on the shoulders of the sharing giants to more efficiently and effectively pursue new knowledge. Indeed, openness has been credited with pushing the Scientific Renaissance, and before that with classical Greece’s development and dissemination of logic through public debates. (Paul David provides a very readable history here.) Today governments and leading psychological organizations continue to recognize that materials and data should be made publically accessible. 

Yet the current norm in psychology is to follow somewhat closed science.  This is not to say psychologists are against being open—most likely think it is “good” to share papers and materials (even data) and will do so in response to a kindly worded email. However, as a field we do not generally share materials and data in a truly open way. Instead only those who have the courage to inconvenience a stranger (who is often higher in prestige than the requester) and patience to wait get access to them.  Moreover, even the best-intentioned researchers often fail to adequately share because data is indecipherable or materials have been lost. Researchers thus, intentionally or not, construct small (and sometimes large) barriers to the dissemination and progress of science. 

But as junior scientists we are particularly well situated to change this norm.  Most of us are still in the process of developing our personal practices and habits, and we have already use computers and the internet (which greatly help open practices) in our everyday work. Thus, integrating open science practices can be a relatively seamless transition.  Additionally, since most of us are not well-known or well-cited, we may be particularly likely to gain from open science’s benefits.

Integrating open practices – what a junior researcher can do.

Online sharing. Even for someone with virtually no technological aptitude, free online sharing platforms like ResearchGate.net, Academia.edu, and the Social Science Research Network make sharing papers quick and foolproof.  Posting the journal-published version of your paper may run up against your publisher’s copyright, but most allow authors to share pre-print author-created versions of their work on non-commercial websites and depositories. (As always, this is not legal advice.  Some resources you may find helpful are here and here.)

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