How to start with Open Science: A student’s guide

by Max Korbmacher

If you want to listen along with Max as he reads through this blogpost, check out the audio file below:

What is the Open Science movement? What has been done? Why do students need to learn about Open Science? And how to start?

What has become known as the replication crisis – the non-replicability of many, partially cornerstone psychology findings – opened the eyes of many. Not only are non-replicable effects not as robust as originally assumed but failures to replicate effects can also undermine the confidence in the effects’ existence and their actual relevance for our lives. The majority of researchers agree; changes must be implemented. And if possible, ASAP! Many of the attempts to bring change have been executed under the wings of the Open Science movement.

But what is the Open Science movement?

Open science refers to making the research process as accessible and transparent as possible. This is not limited to making scientific publications open access, but also to the process of producing them. Making the research process transparent means giving access to methods, such as inventories and procedures, and being transparent about the decisions made during the research process. The goal is to give the reader a better understanding of what has been done, why, and how. And since this is not a standard procedure in the social sciences, there are many advocating for such good and open practices – often called the Open Science movement. 

What is being done?

In a publishing arena where only positive and novel findings are wanted, there is no interest for null findings. Hence, instead of publishing these equally important ‘non-findings’, they get stored away to never see the light of day again. This is also called the file drawer problem, and there are various initiatives to counteract it.

More and more replications are being attempted, the file drawer problem is being tackled by changing the system top-down and bottom-up, new transparency-advancing practices are becoming the standard such as preregistrations, and open access initiatives are gaining momentum: Plan S is being discussed on a European level, and for example the Dutch university association has worked out open access deals with various publishers.

However, these changes are mainly initiated by PhD students, postdoctoral fellows or senior academics. But to get experience with open science practices, it is best to start as early as possible. Therefore, I would like to argue for emphasising the importance of Open Science practices and teaching them as early as possible. In my opinion, the best way would be to teach Open Science as early as in undergraduate courses, for example, in introduction statistics and methods courses.

Clearly, this is dependent on the lecturers’ attitudes towards Open Science practices and their knowledge of them. It cannot be expected that everyone shares the Open Science movement’s view. Hence, it is important to provide the next generation researchers with this information in other interesting, engaging, and fitting ways that do not rely on formal education.

Students for Open Science

A range of student initiatives, such as SIOS or EFPSA, set out to inform students about the open science movement and discuss all the possible solutions to improve the state of the field. However, if you are a student and maybe feel a little confused or lost, and you do not really know where to start – don’t worry! There will be the right activity for you. You can either engage actively or passively in Open Science practices, learn and apply them alone or together.

Where to start?

There are endless resources on the internet. But it is difficult to know where to start, especially when some resources require different levels of previous knowledge. People’s personalities and learning styles differ as well. While some like to read in peace and quiet, others might want to discuss with as many people as possible. The good news is that there will be something for everyone in the Open Science universe. Let’s say it like this: don’t be afraid and dive in there!

The introvert’s approach

One good way of getting to know more about Open Science is to listen to podcasts such as ReproducibiliTeaEverything Hertz, orThe Black Goat. These podcasts will give the listener a good understanding of Open Science practices by using examples from different fields and the fields’ problems. For an introduction into Open Science and the problems at hand, the first few episodes of the ReproducibiliTea are recommended.

Most introductory psychology textbooks will not discuss the state of the field with focus on transparency, critically reviewing researchers’ practices. I personally had heard about replication problems in a specific field in my final undergraduate year. However, it was only during my master’s degree that the topic was actually thematised as a replication crisis. To get an overview, there are a range of books discussing the state of the field critically and give recommendations about the usage of open science practices (e.g., Chris Chamber’s ‘The 7 Deadly Sins of Psychology’ or an the Noba Project as an example for an open access alternative).

There are also articles that give a general introduction to open science practices, such as Crüwell and colleagues’ 7 Easy Steps to Open Science: An Annotated Reading List. In other articles you can read why to use specific practices such as pre-registration or registered reports. Easy-read alternatives are blog posts, for example the 20% Statistician by Daniel Lakens, Ulrich Schimmack’s Replication Index or Data Colada. These blog posts usually analyse particular problems, which will give a better understanding of how widespread these problems are, their impact, and suggest possible solutions.

Connecting to this, there are also many articles on what not to do and what practices are counteracting reproducibility. The umbrella term for the no-no’s is Questionable Research Practices (QRPs). These include undesirable practices such as selective reporting, hypothesising after results are known, p-hacking, or even fabricating data. Sadly, there is evidence showing that QRPs are widespread and ‘normal’ among researchers.

Lurking on academic Twitter is also a great method to get to learn about current issues. Some hashtags which link back to open science are #openscience or #openaccess. However, Twitter might not be the best resource for the very beginning of your Open Science journey, as many discussions are quite technical and the tone can become, let’s say, agitated.

The extravert’s approach

If you want to start discussing straight away, a journal club might be the right thing for you. ReproducibiliTea is an international journal club initiative which offers you to set up your own journal club to discuss the state of science and how to make it better – while having a cup of tea – or to join one of the many clubs throughout the world.

Moreover, every week there are lectures and seminars arranged by different organisations such as Data ColadaRotterdam R.I.O.T. Science Club, and SIOS. These touch different fields and topics, and it is recommended to set your name on mailing lists to keep yourself up to date. Another option is the Open Research Calendar on Twitter keeping you up to date about open science related events all around the world.

Different forums, Discord or Slack channels are also a great way to engage.

And then there are a range of free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – some more interactive than others. A good place to start are Daniel Lakens’ Improving Your Statistical Questions and Improving Your Statistical Inferences.

If you want to get involved directly in open science research activities, there are many international “many-labs” or multisite projects, featuring a number of different researchers and research teams all over the world. A few examples of such international collaborations are the Psychological Science AcceleratorMany Labs 1-5, or ManyBabies. All of them would be happy about your contribution which can happen, for example, by translating or data collection work, or discussing different aspects of a possible study.

Overall, for learning about Open Science and engaging in it, it does not matter how comfortable you feel with statistics and methods or at which career stage you are. For every learner there are materials available and for every career stage there are activities you can engage in!

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