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.

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