January 29, 2016

Utopian Open

open book PNG image

We students of Open Science - the better science? at Vienna University's STS department were asked to envisage an open notebook, or another transparency strategy, for STS research. This short blog post was my attempt.


The first leg of my transparency strategy would be to pre-register my project. I think that it might appear to be slightly hypocritical for STS students or researchers to opine on the problems resulting from the non-publication of null results without taking steps themselves to ensure it doesn’t happen in our branch of knowledge production too. This is especially important, as Miguel et al. point out, if the research is or becomes policy relevant (2014). While some may think that pre-registering might stifle creativity during the process of research, in my opinion this creativity could do with some stifling in order to add a sheen of accuracy and respectability to social scientific research.

This of course leads to the question of where pre-registering would be done. One possibility would be to use existing academic or publishing institutions, such as the Royal Society of the Arts in the UK, although this would lead to questions about the openness of the process. Otherwise, I would envisage some sort of internet repository, perhaps linked to the software application I will describe in the following paragraphs.

Once the project is pre-registered, I think a platform should be used that offers all (or nearly all) of the computer needs of a researcher in one place, and can accordingly keep records of methods, data and analysis. This would be open for other users to examine. I envisage an application with the following work-flow:

  1. The project is pre-registered in-app, and stored on a database that is open to all
  2. The method and theory to be used can also be detailed
  3. Scans of notebooks, texts, databases, mp3 audio and mp4 video of interviews/focus groups can also be stored, giving open access to the raw data (with due care taken to deal with any privacy/consent issues)
  4. A diary function will enable researchers to log and detail their operations
  5. The app will also include versions of coding, analysis and concordance software, allowing all to see exactly what processes have been applied.
  6. The final project could be published from this application once some kind of open peer review had been done. This review would not be difficult to do given how transparent the process had been up until this point.

If such a software application could be developed and widely adopted it would open up publication, data, research and review. I can imagine that not every project will be amenable to this level of transparency, and it may in any case be unpalatable to many researchers to work in this way. However, any project that was this transparent (and survived the process!) would acquire a sheen of not only openness, but also of objectivity and authenticity. And the following question might then be rightly asked of those who are unwilling to adhere to this process – why not?

Miguel, E., Camerer, C., Casey, K., Cohen, et al. (2014). Promoting transparency in social science research. Science, 343, 30-31

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