Even before Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman issued an open letter telling researchers to
embrace reform and set up a replication protocols, Nosek was hard at work on his Open Science Initiative. In one of his "Scientific Utopia" articles, he imagines a world where researchers will pre-register their
hypotheses, openly share and archive raw data in one central location, and check one another's work through replication. While fraud has captured the
lion's share of attention as of late, the more mundane matters of keeping track of research done by migrating students and post docs, tracking patient
records, and modernizing the archival infrastructure for the digital age is one of the essential undertakings in 21st-century science.
The blowback to Nosek's effort has mostly centered around the reproducibility project. "People are mostly afraid that the replications won't pan out, and
that could look bad for the field; but no one is opposed to the Open Science Framework," Nosek says. "I don't know how any scientist in good conscience
could be opposed to transparency."
The Problem of Frogishness
Social psychology is perhaps best known for examining the implicit roots of human error and bias; so there's a sad but all-too-human irony in the wave of
suspicion emerging around scandals based on human error and bias. But with vulnerability also comes strength. "Social psychology already has the tools at
its disposal to confront these issues and lead the pack when it comes to reform," Nosek enthuses. But even if every study was conducted in a digital-age
utopian orgy of scientific openness and transparency, some would doubt the accuracy of the field's claims, likening it to pseudoscience -- a faddish line
of inquiry walking a fine line between frontier and fringe.
The social sciences don't have the luxury of physical object variables like frogs; the components of studies are often more abstract concepts like morality
or intelligence. "There's no such thing as 'frogishness,'" sighs Nosek, addressing the issue. "Well," he recants, ever the scientist, "I suppose you could
have differing degrees of frogishness; but basically, everyone agrees on what a frog is."
People have different concepts of what intelligence is. "There are more and less useful ways of trying to define these things," says Nosek. But basically,
the intellectual subjectivity inherent in the social sciences leaves more room for self-serving interpretation of the data than with hard variables. "When
you're operating on the frontiers of what is known, you're going to make mistakes," Nosek explains. "Knowledge acquisition is messy...but science doesn't
become pseudoscience unless people stop questioning themselves, stop seeing the need for criticism and correction."
MORE ON REFORM AND TRANSPARENCY
While it's too early to tell where the chips will fall, signs of consensus between the old guard and the new are on the horizon. Even researchers who think
the scandal blowback is overblown are fairly well convinced that the issue isn't going away on its own. As Barbara Spellman, the editor of Perspectives on Psychological Science writes, "The
tumbrels have rolled, the guillotines have dropped, and I'm hoping that the publication of the Stapel report represents the end of Revolution 1.0."
Revolution 1.0 was about head-rolling, Spellman (like the vast majority of "law-abiding" scientists) hopes that Revolution 2.0 will be the quieter work of
enacting reforms while getting back to science 2.0 -- a science with greater emphasis on replication and transparency. Maybe these scandals can result in a
little scientific utopia to ring in the New Year.