Jojanneke ( rechts )
Jojanneke Bastiaansen is a senior researcher at the Faculty of Medical Sciences, where she mainly focuses on research into depression. She also writes columns for magazines like Sciencepalooza and Ouders van Nu.
Vera ( links )
Vera Heininga is an interdisciplinary postdoc at the Faculties of Behavioural and Social Sciences and Medical Sciences. She focuses on mood disorders.
Maurits Masselink is a PhD student at the Faculty of Medical Science. He’s working on his thesis on self-image and depression and hopes to finish by December 4.
Young guns argue for Open Science
The cheerleaders of science
Open Science in Groningen
Open Science is a movement that aims to improve the quality of science by making knowledge and data as accessible as possible. They publish articles on open access sites where anyone can read them and share research data. They also pre-register their research. This means writing down a research plan and thesis beforehand, to prevent cherry picking.
The recently founded Open Science Community Groningen was initiated by a group of young Groningen scientists. They want to bring the movement to the RUG in order to improve the quality of research overall.
They don’t just want to unite RUG researchers, but will also organise workshops and provide practical help.
On Tuesday, October 22 they will kick off their organisation with a symposium in the Van Swinderen Huys.
If you’re interested in joining, you can do so at openscience-Groningen.nl
Open Science? That sounds boring and bureaucratic. Why should students and PhDs care about this?
Jojanneke Bastiaansen, senior researcher at the Faculty of Medical Sciences: ‘It’s precisely students and young researchers who should take a good look at their books and wonder how much of the information in them is still correct, now that we’ve realised that so many scientific findings can’t be replicated. They’re also the ones asking: why are you doing science this way?’
Vera Heininga, postdoc at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences: ‘The younger generation practically takes Open Science for granted. They’re like, duh, of course we should be open about everything we do. But that attitude clashes with that of a scientist who has locked himself in a small room doing research and making choices a different scientist in a different locked room wouldn’t make. You can’t really know what those choices are. But if you put all the data and protocols online, you can. When someone has questions and wants to know how something works, they can just look it up for themselves.’
If you write to an author with questions about their research, you hardly ever hear back from them
Does that mean the current process isn’t working?
Jojanneke: ‘If you have any questions about a study, you’re usually out of luck. You can write the author, but you’ll hardly ever hear back. It’s really frustrating.
Especially if you’re trying to be really good and diligent in your own research.
Often when you are really careful and register everything beforehand, the results aren’t what you’d expect, based on the literature. That’s why the younger generation is like: we can do this differently, and we should be doing it differently.’
What was the turning point? When did you realise you were done?
Maurits Masseling, PhD student at the Faculty of Medical Sciences: ‘One of the things that kickstarted it all was an article by Daryl Bem about paranormal gifts, published in 2011. In nine different experiments, Bem tried to show that these gifts are real and published the results in a top journal. People were like, okay, if someone can publish stuff like that with the methods we’re currently using, something is definitely wrong.’
Vera: ‘For me, the turning point was an article by the “rock star” of Open Science, John P.A. Ioannides: Why Most Published Research Findings Are False from 2005. Through simulation studies, he showed that a lot of studies are lacking in things we’d never even considered.’
Jojanneke: ‘For me, it was Marcus Munafò, a British professor. When I started my first postdoc, I wanted to do everything right. But I got all these null results. I met Munafò and he was like, keep going. Publish your null results!
Eventually, I did. At symposiums I was approached by all these other PhD students who were like, “I got the same data sets that you did, but people told me to give up, to move on – that this wouldn’t get me anywhere in science”.’
You also say the current system of rewarding scientists is at fault.
Vera: ‘So much! In the current system, it’s more rewarding to invest time in significant findings than in null results. But that’s actually pretty weird.’
Jojanneke: ‘If you want to make the most out of your career, you have to do all these stupid tiny studies. You can publish about those and boost your career. But that won’t lead to the best scientific output, obviously.’
We have an ethical duty to do the best research we can
Vera: ‘It’s also a waste of subsidies, because this way we gather new knowledge really slowly.’
Maurits: ‘Don’t forget that in psychiatry and the medical field, we actually work with people: patients who look to us to solve their problems. We have an ethical duty to do the best research we can and put their interests above our own.’
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea of Open Science, though. Some scientists think it’s a hassle.
Vera: ‘There can be some friction between young scientists and older professors. Someone who is used to the closed-off, establishment climate of science might wonder if they were part of a bad system. They’re not, but that’s the feeling they get.’
Jojanneke: ‘Don’t forget that scientists have increasingly less time as they climb the ladder. PhD students and postdocs have more time to change up their routine. Honestly, it’s just great when a professor allows his researchers to do things differently.’
Vera: ‘I do have a problem with the fact that they’re the ones hiring people and that they basically have to give us permission to invest in Open Science. It takes time: you have to write an extra coding book for documentation; you have to pre-register when you’re already under pressure to publish, etc.’
Jojanneke: ‘It’s a fine line. We’re enthusiastic and idealistic, but people tend to feel attacked. As though we think they’re not doing it right. But I personally believe that most scientists are just doing the very best they can.’
Or they think you’re trying to tell them how to do their research…
Jojanneke: ‘I just want to know how they did their work, so that I and journalists and other researchers can decide how valuable it is.’
Vera: ‘And to make sure it’s verifiable.’
Jojanneke: ‘We want to know why certain choices were made. Whether there were any analyses without any significant results. But I want researchers to get on board; I don’t want to tell them how to do their work.
Sometimes people dismiss us as Jehova’s Witnesses – like we’re on a mission to convert people
We’re all sensitive to the pressure in science, as well as the culture of rewards. Besides, it’s all too easy to fool yourself. Like when you have your data and you think, hmmm, there’s no effect, but there is a huge difference between men and women. You might be tempted to think that this was what you were looking for in the first place. It can happen to anyone, but you can avoid this by pre-registering you research questions.’
But you are looking for supporters.
Vera: ‘What I don’t like is that people tend to dismiss us as Jehova’s Witnesses – like we’re on a mission to convert people. But we’re not.
Maurits: ‘We did create the community to help people…’
Vera: ‘Sure, but people who are actually interested. I’m not going to try to convert someone who doesn’t give a hoot about Open Science. A few years ago, I would have loved this kind of community to help me out with stuff like pre-registration. Professors might think Open Science takes up a lot of time, but they can always just send their students to deal with it.’
Aren’t you worried that it will erode faith in science even further?
Maurits: ‘We could keep denying that there is a problem, but that’s like trying to build on quicksand. We have to make that change and make sure we can be trusted again. Not that we couldn’t be trusted before. Anyway…’
Jojanneke: ‘People have asked me: can’t we have these discussions behind closed doors? But then you just get these authority figures who say “trust me, I’m wearing a lab coat”. I think people will trust us more if we have this discussion out in the open and show them how seriously we take it and what steps we’re taking towards transparency. It’s not like I think what we’re doing right now is perfect, but we shouldn’t just put up with the status quo. We don’t want to be the sourpusses of science. We’re cheerleaders of science.’