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Open Science is a Behavior.

September 12th, 2018,

Katie Corker's closing remarks from the SIPS 2018 meeting in Grand Rapids, MI on June 26, 2018 offer a hopeful and actionable view of open science in psychology.


With the last few moments we have together, I’d like to talk about what it means, to me, to be an Open Scientist. As a personality psychologist, I have this very strong urge to try to classify Open Science – is it a stable trait? a goal? an identity? a value? a loosely connected set of behaviors?

It certainly shares some characteristics with identity – defined by Tajfel in 1972 as “the individual’s knowledge that he belongs to certain social groups together with emotional and value significance to him of this group membership.”  I undoubtedly attach value and meaning to my participation in this movement, and I suspect many of you do as well.

Indeed, to a cynic, it might seem like being an Open Scientist is just an achievement you can unlock or a t-shirt you can wear. We give badges to practitioners, and we even created a whole society that you can join to show your affinity for The Cause. (ouch.)

These trappings of identity feed our oh-so-human tendency to classify and categorize: Us and them. Open and not open. Good and bad.

In reality, of course, scientist humans (like other humans) are much harder than that to classify. What it means to be Open is not reducible to these identity signals (badges, t-shirts, and the like). I don’t have to tell you all – the reason that you’re doing this is not (just) to get a badge or a stamp of approval. You’re doing it because you want to do high quality work. You want to have the best possible chance of learning something True about the world and the people in it.

Yet, the tendency for camps to form remains. I feel very strongly that we need to resist this urge as intensely as possible. I say this without a hint of irony as the t-shirt and sticker provider at this meeting.

Seriously though, how can we make it so that the Open Science movement in psychology is as inclusive as possible? I know the diversity hack-a-thon and re-hack-athon have been hard at work on this throughout the meeting (and SIPS as an organization has already taken many concrete steps towards inclusivity). This is good progress, but we need to keep at it. Inertia won’t carry us toward an inclusive and just SIPS – but I have confidence that you all are willing to roll up your sleeves and do the actual work we need to keep making progress on this issue.

There is one thing I think we can do, starting right now, that could go a long way towards reducing tendencies to divide and form in-group and out-group. I want us to think hard about classifying Open Science as a behavior. Not as an identity. Not as a value. It is a set of practices that you do in order to make your work transparent to others, checkable and scrutinizable by others in the community.

I think this framing of what it means to be open has some interesting implications for how we think about and work to spread adoption of open practices. 

If Open Science is a behavior that means it is not necessarily excessively stable – practices can obviously vary from project to project. We’ll have to resist the very strong urge to heuristically classify researchers as Open or Not Open and the desire to award quality points accordingly. We’ll have to judge each project, each study, on its own merits, including the presence and implementation of various open practices.

It might seem simple – evaluate the work and not the person who did it – but if there’s anything this movement has done, it is to show us how challenging this actually is. It seems that humans mostly want things to be simple, categorizable, heuristic. We (people who want open practices to spread) have to work really hard to avoid this and remain vigilant against doing the easy thing. It’s easy to look for symbols of identity or values and classify someone – that’s an “open science person.” It’s much harder to give detailed consideration to each project and evaluate the openness of that work. 

We have to actively resist the notion that there is an indelible mark that divides open from non-open scientists. Researchers can choose to do non-open practices, but that doesn’t make them Non Open Scientists. Instead, we need to set up structures that support more and more researchers more and more of the time to choose Open Practices. Not so that the Open Science in-group will grow larger and larger, but so that scientific quality will increase.

But that’s the beauty of the practices, the behaviors, that we’re trying to encourage. As a first principle what openness does is it makes it possible to evaluate more clearly the quality of the work that has been done. Without transparency, we have to rely more strongly on things like reputation and track record and fame. Open science practices allow us to more closely approximate our scientific ideals – but only if we’re willing to do the cognitively demanding task, the effortful processing, avoid the simple heuristic.

So when you go home, I want you proudly wear your new t-shirts and show off your new stickers. I want to you join SIPS as a member (or renew your membership) so you can vote in our upcoming elections, and I want you to ask your friends and colleagues to do so too. But I also want you to remember what the sticker, what the membership stands for – it’s a commitment to the hard work of actually doing these practices and it’s a sign to others that you are there to help them as they change their behaviors too. Open science is stronger because we’re doing this together, and we’re going to need everyone’s help to improve psychological research.


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