July 2015

Introducing: The Open Science Committee at our department

Large-scale replication projects of the last years (e.g., ManyLabs I, II, and III, Reproducibility Project: Psychology) showed that the “replication crisis” in psychology is more than just hot air: According to recent estimates, ~60% of current psychological research is not replicableI will not go into details here about 'What counts as a replication?'. The 60% number certainly can be debated on many grounds, but the take-home-message is: It's devastating.. This spurred a lot of developments, such as the TOP guidelines, which define transparency and openness criteria for scientific publications.

The field is thinking about how we can ensure that we generate more actual knowledge and less false positives, or in the words of John Ioannidis: How to make more published research true.

In order to fathom potential consequences for our own department of psychology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, our department’s administration unanimously decided to establish an Open Science Committee (OSC).

The committee’s mission and goals include:

  • Monitor the international developments in the area of open science and communicate them to the department.
  • Organize workshops that teach skills for open science (e.g., How do I write a good pre-registration? What practical steps are necessary for Open Data? How can I apply for the Open Science badges?, How to do an advanced power analysis, What are Registered Reports?).
  • Develop concrete suggestions concerning tenure-track criteria, hiring criteria, PhD supervision and grading, teaching, curricula, etc.
  • Channel the discussion concerning standards of research quality and transparency in the department. Even if we share the same scientific values, the implementations might differ between research areas. A medium-term goal of the committee is to explore in what way a department-wide consensus can be established concerning certain points of open science.

The OSC developed some first suggestions about appropriate actions that could be taken in response to the replication crisis at the level of our department. We focused on five topics:

  • Supervision and grading of dissertations
  • Voluntary public commitments to research transparency and quality standards (this also includes supervision of PhDs and coauthorships)
  • Criteria for hiring decisions
  • Criteria for tenure track decisions
  • How to allocate the department’s money without setting incentives for p-hacking

Raising the bars naturally provokes backlashs. Therefore we emphasize three points right from the beginning:

  1. The described proposals are no “final program”, but a basis for discussion. We hope these suggestions will trigger a discussion within research units and the department as a whole. Since the proposal targets a variety of issues, of course they need to be discussed in the appropriate committees before any actions are taken.
  2. Different areas of research differ in many aspects, and the actions taken can differ betweens these areas. Despite the probably different modes of implementation, there can be a consensus regarding the overarching goal – for example, that studies with higher statistical power offer higher gains in knowledge (ceteris paribus), and that research with larger gains in knowledge should be supported.
  3. There can be justified exceptions from every guideline. For example, some data cannot sufficiently be anonymized, in which case Open Data is not an option. The suggestions described here should not be interpreted as chains to the freedom of research, but rather as a statement about which values we as a research community represent and actively strive for.

Two chairs are currently developing a voluntary commitment to research transparency and quality standards. These might serve as a blue-print or at least as food for thought for other research units. When finished, these commitments will be made public on the department’s website (and also on this blog). Furthermore, we will collect our suggestions, voluntary commitments, milestones,  etc. on a public OSF project.

Do you have an Open Science Committee or a similar initiative at your university? We would love to bundle our efforts with other initiatives, share experiences, material, etc. Contact us!

— Felix Schönbrodt, Moritz Heene, Michael Zehetleitner, Markus Maier

Stay tuned – soon we will present a first major success of our committee!
(Follow me on Twitter for more updates on #openscience and our Open Science Committee: @nicebread303)

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