Open Science? What’s That?

Was the answer I got from Andrew Abbott at a Hogwart’s dinner I was fortunate enough to attend a few years back when I asked him after dinner, “what are your thoughts on open science?”

That’s right. Open science. Say something paradigm changing.

We have so many results and coherent arguments about the status of science. To make an impact here requires synthesizing them into something new. Not purely constructively new in nature, but also subtly undermining all that came before. Something was missing all along and this new perspective is it. That’s the problem.

Our formula for declaring theory and opinion in scientific writing is that it must be big. Paradigm impacting. Makes you think. Expresses the scientist author’s authoritative intellect and ingenious perspective. With seemingly effortless written words, the scientist author lays down an argument so convincing, that it must be true. It was true all along. It is so obvious, why didn’t I see it? Thinks the average reader.

If Diederik Stapel was never caught, he would be a model for success. THE model for success in social psych. You don’t know what the formula for success is? Ask an economist. You have 3, maybe 5 journals in which you need to get published very early on. You have to have a job market paper that is known. You have to have connections. Otherwise you are on the sidelines, building an exit strategy. This is roughly true in the other social and behavioral science disciplines, yet we in sociology or political science will mostly deny it. We are better than those status maniacs.

But it is publish-or-perish. And this is the model.

To do publish, requires word wizardy. The ability to take any findings and craft an argument about them that makes them seem relevant is more valuable than research method skills. To make any findings seem essential to our fundamental understandings of somethings that are important. That is how we do science. Framing.

Andrew Abbott has the goal of out thinking, reading, writing and arguing everyone he encounters. Ask him if you ever meet him. He will not deny this. Easily considered by most to be one of the greatest living sociologists. He was editor of AJS and published book reviews of random, late-night selections in the Oxford library under a pen name, because it was fun. Because that is what legends do, and then tell about. He once wrote that sharing all material to be reproducible and replicable would make science boring.

As long as this is the model for success, we are not making real progress.

I sat at a dinner once with Ronald Inglehart. Every student, postdoc and professor there gawked with wide eyes. What was so appealing and enthralling. Why was this scientist a rock star for us? Was it his findings? Or was it his status? I think status. I think that is what scientists are seeking. I observe it. I feel it. If you have to have certain publications in order to not just pursue a scientific career, but to be at the ‘forefront’ of a subfield, then does it really matter what is in those publications? As long as you get to claim that status, that is it. You win. Why do athletes take steroids, cheat? Is it because of their great passion for the sport? Or is it to win status?

I entered a Master’s program in order to learn about the problems associated with a topic that was pressing for social justice and democracy. I still want to do this. But status was dangled in front of my eyes. ‘Publications are the currency of our trade’. The professor who told me this was absolutely correct. Now I want to do open science, but I have to perform wizardy with words to be recognized as central to the open science movement. This makes me uneasy to the point of nausea.

How can science become trustworthy and effective, if we have to be witty, cutthroat and/or famous in order to take part in it? How can we overcome this delusion? When will we stop and say enough is enough?

This type of honesty is what John Levi Martin specifically advised not to put out on the intrawebs because it will come back to bite me someday. Image (presentation) is everything. Warhol or Abbott, they figured that out long ago. I guess then for my own peace of mind, I extend my hand. Bite away you biters.

Love connection

I was recently asked to give a speech at a wedding. I had several requests for a copy of that speech. I provide that here. The speech is written so that those getting married remain anonymous, I will refer to them as A and B. It is also my best effort to reconstruct it, as it was not written down. It likely varies slightly from the original except for the quotes. The speech started with some personal comments and a joke or two and then it transitioned into this:

Families can be complicated. As the Dalai Lama pointed out:

If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family.

Families aside, we live in a world that sometimes feels cruel, cold and in conflict. That’s why it is so powerful when two people come together and build something. A and B are building something. A sanctuary. A place where they can be safe, where they can express their true feelings, where they can expose their true selves.

What am I saying?…. I’m saying A and B are in love!

Now I don’t actually know what that is, but Dr. Seuss described it once as:

You know you are in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.

In another book that I admit I haven’t read much of, but is quite popular, we have John telling us that,

God is love.

The point, I think, is that love is not just a state of being. It is a choice, it is an action, it is a power that exists as a synergy. Something greater than the sum of the people who make up its parts. But at a basic level, love is commitment. Commitment is a choice. A choice to honor the idea of love.

Because a relationship will not always be pink fluffy dinosaurs, rainbows and moonbeams. Its like a river. Sometimes surging after rain fall, other times flowing mildly and still other times dried up in drought. Therefore, true love is the commitment to work through the drought. To admit that those loving feelings are not there, but to honor and cherish the partner anyways. To have faith that it will return.

Its maybe like one of my favorite authors, bell hooks, describes it:

Love is an act of will, both an intention and an action…the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.

Therefore, it seems like what A and B have experienced in their 8 years together, and what I’ve experienced in my 13 years with my wonderful partner, is the transformative power of love – as in the commitment to nurture love through thick and thin.

Eleanor Roosevelt said:

It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know

A and B sit here with confidence because they have experienced this purifying fire, and are ready to experience it again and again. I see and honor their commitment tonight.

I see them create what is described by the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:

For life to have personal meaning there must be people who matter to us, and for whom we matter, unconditionally and non-substitutably.

And their efforts are not just for them. This act of commitment to love is also a commitment to contribute something to the world that is good. That makes it just that much better for the rest of us. That nurtures humanity. As the Rabbi Amanda Greene pointed out:

We must build this world from love.

All of that! All through a commitment to love. All through love as a commitment. A commitment to love unconditionally, to fall short of this perfect ideal over and over, and to keep trying.

For this beautiful act I salute you and I love you both.

Academic-Status-Seeking Anonymous

  1. We admitted we were powerless over our results. That our status-seeking was unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that the power of truth-seeking would restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our research and our careers over to the power of truth-seeking as we understood it.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our scientific conduct.
  5. Admitted to ourselves and to another trusted scientist and in public the exact nature of our questionable research practices (QRPs).
  6. Were entirely ready to let pursuit of truth remove our QRPs.
  7. Humbly asked truth-seeking to replace our hacking and bias.
  8. Made a list of all hacked results and became willing to update or retract them all.
  9. Made such updates and retractions, ensuring that in doing so all innocent co-authors reputations were not harmed.
  10. Continued to take academic-status-seeking inventory and when we engaged in QRPs promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through logic and self-reflection to improve our conscious pursuit of truth, as we understood truth-seeking, praying only for the least biased research practices possible.
  12. Having had a scientific awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to academic-status-seekers, and practice these principles in all our affairs.

Love is in the error term

A major segment of social science uses formal models and quantitative methods to explain social phenomena. That means they use mathematical symbols to define how they think the world works, and then find data and test it. For example, researchers want to explain social outcomes, like committing a crime, changing jobs, moving or having children. Why do some people do these things and not others? Researchers then speculate that other things cause these outcomes like getting married, having a job or losing a job, how much money a person makes, how old they are and all kinds of other stuff.

Next, researchers change their theoretical ideas into a formal model. This means an equation. Before you stop reading, maybe pause to consider that an equation is just a theory expressed with symbols instead of standard language. For example,

Y = X

and this might represent moving homes (“Y“) is caused by getting married (“X“). Another way of saying this is, Y depends on X or moving depends on getting married.

But seriously, getting married does not always cause moving. Sometimes it does. The correct claim is that moving is a function of getting married. Function means that marriage probably increases the likelihood of moving by some amount. Therefore, researchers add a modifier to X, like the letter b, so if b was 0.3 getting married would increase the likelihood of moving by 30%. People also move when they don’t get married, so researchers add a constant a to account for the likelihood of a person moving for any other reason. So if a was 0.3 then the average person would have a 30% chance of moving at any point.

Y = a + bX

Now if a and bX could be used to perfectly predict whether a person moves or not. The researcher would have made a monumental achievement here. Instead what happens is the researcher goes and observes moving and marriage behaviors. Tries to do this with a random sample of the population of a society. Then applies the above equation to the sample data. Does the equation fit perfectly to the data? No. Never. Researchers must admit that their theories come with uncertainty. Maybe moving depends on the type of home the person always lives in, maybe it depends on whether a couple can afford to move or if it is even a couple or a single parent. There are nearly unlimited things that could cause moving. Also, getting a perfectly random sample, mistakes when observing or coding data, etc. leads to uncertainty in the results. This means the formal equation has to have e, an error term.

Y = a + bX + e

Researchers spend their time trying to reduce what is in the error term. So they are basically tasked with the job of reducing uncertainty. If scientists wants to fly a spaceship to mars they have to reduce all possible forms of uncertainty in the take off, flight path, landing, electronics and so forth. But a social scientist who wants to predict how many people will move, where they will move or which people will move, cannot reduce uncertainty that much. Sure, they can explain moving with job changes, family members getting sick, weather, hobbies, wars, and so many observable things. But they will never fully explain moving. What I’m really saying here is that social scientists will never be able to perfectly explain human behaviors. Its like this:

An Enlightened Physicist describes Sociology

Why is it so hard? If we could just measure all the things that people are doing and thinking we could predict precisely what humans will do next, right? Maybe so, maybe not; but irrelevant because we cannot measure everything about humans. Even if we could measure the precise actions of the network of neurons in one human brain numbering greater than all the stars in the universe, we probably couldn’t measure love. But something that we might refer to as love seems to be a major force in guiding human actions. Both the effect of love:

“Love affects more than our thinking and our behavior toward those we love. It transforms our entire life”

– Thomas Merton

And the lack of love:

“Intense spiritual and emotional lack in our lives is the perfect breeding ground for material greed and overconsumption.”

– bell hooks

(both quotes from hooks 2000, pp. 187 & 105)

These suggest love is a prime mover of human decisions and behaviors. But we don’t know what it is exactly and we have made no attempts, that I am aware of, in any large population surveys to measure it. So,

When we add love as an X variable to our formal model we cannot test anything, because we have not developed instruments to measure it. So it remains in the void of all that variance in Y that we simply cannot explain. Maybe we should start focus some of our effort on that.

hooks, bell. 2000. All About Love: New Visions. William Morrow and Company, New York, NY. ISBN 0-688-16844-2.

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