Is sloppy science an institutional issue?

On wednesday June 5th I attended the Erasmus Graduate School of Social Sciences and the Humanities symposium “How to prevent sloppy science? Defining good conduct in science“. This symposium offered much promise with keynotes by prof. Kees Schuyt and dr. Peter Verkoeijen, but eventually did little in defining what this good conduct in science actually is or should be.

Keynotes

eurintegrity

The first keynote by prof. Kees Schuyt  (Chairman of the KNAW committee) gave a general introduction to what sloppy science is, differentiating it from fraud (i.e. the Stapel-case) and focusing on scientific integrity: “doing the right thing when nobody is looking on you”. His main focus of preventing sloppy science was on data management, where good data management is necessary, although not sufficient, for good scientific conduct. I’m a proponent of data management, but what this should consist of remained vague; the publishing of raw data shouldn’t be necessary, as long as you explain how you cleaned up your data. This seems to me a rather strange proposition: if your data selection is sloppy, this approach of data management will not solve that. Other solutions proposed such as an oath seem like a waste of effort to me.

The second keynote by dr. Peter Verkoeijen (Associate Professor Cognitive Psychology, EUR) focused on the importance of replication studies in psychology and in science in general. In general, his proposition was that replication studies enable the detection of fraud and false positives (i.e. incorrectly concluding a hypothesis is true). His main source was the paper by Simmons, Nelson & Simonsohn (2011), in which it is demonstrated how easily false positives can come to be. The method-section in a paper should then provide sufficient information for the replication of the experiment, something I’ve experienced is not always trivial when trying to keep a paper short and focused. Moreover, where can successful replications be published? Enabling and performing replication thus appears limited to the researcher’s personal webpage.

Discussion

Interestingly, both keynotes and the discussion afterwards focused on quantitative data. How should this be approached for qualitative research, for which replication is often impossible? The PhD-student sitting next to me wondering whether he should make the interviews for his research available still had the same question at the end of the day. Likewise, I still wondered what exactly good data management means. As such, the symposium was interesting, but failed to address the individual research practices that should be addressed, especially in the context of a graduate school.

2 thoughts on “Is sloppy science an institutional issue?

  1. N.G. says:

    #”I’m a proponent of data management, but what this should consist of remained vague; the publishing of raw data shouldn’t be necessary, as long as you explain how you cleaned up your data. This seems to me a rather strange proposition: if your data selection is sloppy, this approach of data management will not solve that. Other solutions proposed such as an oath seem like a waste of effort to me.”

    Hear, hear !! I am amazed by certain offered “solutions” to big problems in science at the moment, which (to me) seem to totally lack any logical basis for even being called an improvement, let alone a possible solution. I am also amazed by (what seems to me to be) the lack of willingness from some people and/or institutions and/or journals to just require certain basic things which could (would?) improve the usefulness and validity of scientific research. How hard is it to post your data online, or pre-register your studies, and to require such things. Really ?!! Is it me, or should these kinds of things be a normal part of science. Heck, even just taking yourself and your science seriously (as an individual scientist but even more just as an institution or a journal). It amazes me that these things haven’t been implemented 15 years ago. I find it strange, and also hilarious.

    #”Moreover, where can successful replications be published? Enabling and performing replication thus appears limited to the researcher’s personal webpage.”

    Replications of experimental psychological research (irrespective of the results) can, for instance, be posted on the site http://psychfiledrawer.org/

    I suggest not replicating anything, not pre-registering your studies, not uploading data. I mean, it’s not like issues with replicability and fraud, etc. have been going on and have been known for decades now, right ? I suggest just organising another symposium in 5 years time. You could then mention the latest articles about non-replicability of findings, and possible new fraud-cases and all that could be done to possible improve these problematic issues in science. However, and this is key, you should not require an implementation of possible improvements. You should just talk about it. Do not actually implement or require anything that could improve science. You mustn’t actually DO anything.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *