Stagnation or solidification of open science? (s03e15)

Stagnation or solidification of open science? (s03e15)
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This is a transcript of the Open Update podcast. Listen to the original audio on

[00:00:00] Chris Hartgerink: Welcome back to the Open Update. We are continuing the conversation from a few weeks ago where we are asking this question of how do we create change and are we accelerating or decelerating how fast we're making change. Because it's not just the absolute speed with which we go, but it also matters how the world around us evolves.

We'll continue that conversation today. Last time, Sarahanne, you ended on a fantastic note. Could you pick us up where we left off?

[00:00:37] Sarahanne Field: When people ask me what research field, I say I'm a meta researcher or a meta scientist, and some people think that's a completely valid answer, and others say, "oh, isn't that the kind of field or the kind of area of research that will go away by its own construction?" Because the idea of meta science tends to be that we use meta science, so we use the tools of research to study the research process with the view of reform or with the view of improving how we do things, prescribing methods for change . By its very nature, you could absolutely argue that meta research is designed to create its own demise. And that's where we might go with this episode: discussing whether or not we're stalling as a movement. Maybe sometimes a failure to convert discussion into genuine, meaningful, and lasting change.

Would that signal the end of the research reform movement? What are your thoughts, Chris?

[00:01:45] Chris Hartgerink: Solutionism to me is always a very technologically optimistic way of viewing the world. It's also, in social theory, one of the drivers of capitalism. It's the we need to innovate to solve problems, and those innovations will get rewarded.

In that sense, I can very quickly fall in the trap of that thinking, the problem is solved once you fix it. That sounds super logical and it feels very convincing. But the consequence of this is that once one problem, let's say, gets fixed, it creates its own new problems.

So I don't like to think in fixing things solutionism because it's literally just changing what the problem is. I don't think meta research is gonna go away any more than the fight for liberties in a democratic state is going away because this is not a linear trajectory. It's cyclical. We have movements and we have counter movements. This is also a perspective on research reform, where it sometimes feels like it's too much of a "we're just fixing something in the logical direction, and then it's a done deal."

It can be undone and then to get to that point where we're no longer asking "what is the solution that we can create," but more " how do we create the change that we want to see?"

This is where my main problem comes up. How many of those real ideas actually affect some sort of change? You can't do that without strong communities. When these projects become successful, they become successful, not in spite, but because of their communities. When they sell to some major conglomerate, those communities don't sell. Those communities are not a commodity that can be sold. They're an asset that loses its value at that time.

So the question becomes, are we approaching this issue the wrong way? If we just talk about solutions and what are really the communities that we've built up over the past decade?

[00:04:05] Sarahanne Field: I love the dynamic nature of research and I think as, as meta research, we can just come in and have a different perspective on that.

We draw in things from STS science and technology studies, we bring in philosophy of science. We bring in a whole bunch of different perspectives and I think that's brilliant. It's interesting when you, when you say that you can't sort of commodify a community so you can commodify a product, so for example, Twitter, but the idea that, that he's hijacked his community, it hasn't gone that way. We're seeing now an enormous influx of people in, say, Mastodon Blue Sky's another one.

But it's interesting the idea of, of being able to commodify a product and not a community. And I think that's exactly right. I think despite some of these platforms or or products being sold off to big publishers, for example, the communities are left behind.

And I think that that will continue, especially when the people are motivated to continue doing these things and continuing to agitate for change, and we see that.

[00:05:07] Chris Hartgerink: In a society where we get so individuated and we think about, Ourselves as individuals, not in relation to others or in communities, we run the risk of not putting in that kind of work . Twitter , a lot of people have migrated away, and that doesn't mean the community doesn't exist anymore. There's just dispersement. Some of the connections, they get lost and maybe the network of that community gets a bit less interconnected.

What I'm trying to say is we don't have a ton of practice in this kind of work. What does it mean to be really relational? To make it more concrete, at least for me, where when I was younger it was very normal, if you get a new neighbor, you just say hello or whatever.

But now I live in Berlin and there it's not at all a thing, so it's become so individuated that even the vector of meeting people and creating that community is much smaller, even though a lot of individuals would like to want it more, but the practicality of it, they don't. And this is a, a very fundamental thing to any kind of organizing or, even outside of science, any kind of political action.

Do you know the people who in your proximity, do you know who else is in that space? Social media definitely helps, but it's not just about knowing their name. But do you relate to one another? Can you have conversations? And I think this is also part where it very quickly breaks down, is we might have very superficial conversations, but when we really dig down into what needs to change and how do we do this, we end up very often talking at each other without really talking with each other.

And I really miss this, this aspect of what are the spaces where we can get the quote unquote "training" to learn to have political discourse in a way that is necessary, but also at the same time that we can have that exchange of thoughts and that there's also some power at the end to create effective change.

If you're at a university and you want to change how researchers are assessed, nowadays, it's very often somebody sitting in an office, a technocrat saying, "okay, we're gonna change X, Y, Z." That's it. What would actually be a situation where the researchers at that institution who that reform would be about, can they get together, have the power as a joint community to recommend changes because they all have ideas about this and we know from research, more diverse perspectives is good for the end results than just one expert, providing recommendations.

What if they were able to say, okay, these are three things we want to change, like a citizen's assembly kind of idea. Then the technocrat or the person who gets to implement these things actually has to do one of these, for example. I think that would be a space where the researchers at that university they would need to have that conversation. They would need to learn, how do we converse? How do we build community, even if we're not of the same opinion? To then provide a recommendation because we want to get something done, even if it's not everything that we as individuals want, but as a group, we can at least come to something.

[00:08:51] Sarahanne Field: One thing I think that relates to how we relate to each other as a field or as a community that's been affected by the pandemic. How we learned and taught, how we communicated with each other, how we participated in conferences and networked.

That opened up some possibilities that I think also have changed sort of the landscape, of what we're doing. It, it showed people that they don't always have to be present at the office to have meetings. So if you've got your kids in the morning, you don't have to do all of your meetings in the office. You can say, "I won't be at the office until 11" and my meeting from, you know, 9.30-10.30 can take place at home. I don't have any clear insights on, on what this means. But when you're, when you're saying just the idea of us relating to each other and linking that to things like change especially in institutions, I'm wondering what role that has.

For example, for a university, what's possible say for teaching, what engagement looks like and what tools are available and what tools are really an investment to use.

We have the case of, in one of the courses I'm teaching this year, a student who is unable to come in person, but a lot of our lessons are structured around in-person live discourse. And I, I'm kind of conflicted because I'm very much a proponent for people being able to participate online, but at the same time, there isn't an investment with my university in making that online learning with that student possible. So they're either isolated or they just can't do the course. This comes back a little bit to the difference between inclusion in a basic sense, and inclusion in a meaningful sense, like how valuable is it to that person and, and how much investment has been made to, to really make them feel included and, and to feel welcome and to feel like they can actually participate.

In the role of a teacher thinking how can I work with the tools that we have and the investment that has been made? I remember I did a couple of lectures in the pandemic and it was really dissatisfying also for the lecturer because the engagement wasn't there, that face-to-face engagement that wasn't there.

I wish there had have been an investment in online engagement that made that possible, but it just wasn't there.

[00:11:23] Chris Hartgerink: I understand that there needs to be a justification and it needs to be reasonable. At the same time, there's also the flip side of reasonable is whether it's dignified, because I know that a lot of universities don't invest in accessibility of the lectures . They don't invest enough in that, and that ends up being, then the teacher has to bear the, the brunt of it, and they're already overloaded with work. As a result of that, individual students can get bear the brunt of that again. So we're always pitted against each other.

In the US you have certain legislation. I know it's in the Netherlands as well. I think Europe wide probably where if there's, for some legitimate reason, you cannot attend lectures there needs to be an alternative. So for example, if you have chronic illness, then the university technically has to provide alternative means of participation, which allow you to get the same experience. So they should be able to provide recordings or whatnot.

And I have heard experiences of people who are chronically ill, the teacher would say, you're not allowed to have somebody else record it for you, so when they're already going out of their way to get that access they're supposed to get from the university.

Yes, it sometimes it makes sense to look at numbers, but we definitely have to take into account that we don't get sucked into the narrative that they provide us, because that's an accountant's perspective on the world.

[00:13:03] Sarahanne Field: I think that's something that I, I genuinely expected would change as a result of the pandemic, as a result of a lot of things going online. Not just something that sort of temporarily happened because it had to, but most people were happy for it just to end because they weren't affected by it in any way.

They could be in at the office or they could be at home. It didn't matter to them, I think because that's the majority of people that meaningful, long lasting change just did not take place. But for people, you know, at, at the time when a lot of conferences were online, for example, I was, I was breastfeeding and I had to be there for a baby.

So for me that was a really amazing change that I would've loved to see continued for other, New parents . I think I'm disappointed a little bit that over the time that I have been in, in research, and in, in a field that is interested in change, that that has not changed.

I think it's a shame and I think it's a, a missed opportunity.

[00:13:58] Chris Hartgerink: We sometimes narrate our lives in a very hopeful way, a very optimistic way that people want people, organizations want to relate to each other in a very equal and equitable manner, but that is not the case. So in essence, instead of seeing the pandemic as, as the.

A stepping stone to change, it was an exceptional moment that required because of circumstances that change. And as soon as those circumstances have been deemed absent, because that's another aspect, of course, then that exception no longer exists, and hence all those changes can be undone. And tying that up to the opening question is the progress of open science in the past decade, has that been solidified such that there is a real change or has that been an exceptional state because of, quote unquote, "this crisis, reproducibility crisis," which has always been there, but all of a sudden became such a clear aspect of daily life. I personally think it has solidified beyond just an exceptional state. I think there's no putting the toothpaste back in the tube anymore

[00:15:18] Sarahanne Field: I'm thinking about the conditions for when that change would become solidified. When we would get to the point where the toothpaste can't be put back into the tube.

You said something along the lines of the people coming back into the office has a lot to do with control. It just made me think of the rise of AI and its use in academia, as a means of, helping people write papers, helping people do exams and that kind of thing. There's a lot of systems, platforms, protocols, rules that are coming into place in universities to prevent people, or at least to detect people from using these tools for learning and for research and that kind of thing.

Coming back to control, I, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of those changes are very lasting and meaningful because they do allow things like universities, entities like that to have control and to continue to have control over students.

[00:16:16] Chris Hartgerink: In this episode we've talked around the developments in the past 10 years-ish, and whether the development of open science is stagnated. we haven't really gotten a very concrete answer.

There are aspects that have stagnated for various reasons. There's also areas where progress has been made and this very cyclical nature of even if we make progress, it can be undone. And so what stagnates doesn't need to stagnate forever.

In the next episode, we'll continue on this track and we'll ask this question, but we'll be looking towards the next decade. What hurdles do we see? What potential, Important topics are there, and subsequently to better understand or to think about what can we do to incorporate that understanding and to improve the progress in the next decade.

So join us in a few weeks. Thank you very much for listening

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