By Leila Jameel, PhD student at UCL Department of Experimental Psychology.
On behalf of Tom E Hardwicke, Matthew Jones, Eryk J Walczak, Lucia M Weinberg
In 2012 Daniel Kahneman sent an email to several prominent social psychologists warning that he saw a “train wreck looming” for the field. This statement was issued in response to the scandalous case of research fraud perpetrated by Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel. It sent shock waves rippling, and the entire psychological discipline was placed under intense scrutiny. Gradually the issues highlighted by this debate filtered across psychology, to the social and physical sciences.
It has become increasingly clear that the scientific enterprise has blown off-course. It is plagued by threats that undermine its progress including the aggressive ‘publish or perish’ culture and severe cuts suffered in response to austerity measures. Media exposure concerning the extent of Stapel’s fraudulent activities (more than 50 peer-reviewed articles were retracted), has led to a more nuanced understanding of scientific integrity. Whilst outright data falsification is considered to be a rare but dangerous threat, traditionally the majority of scientists are assumed to be honest and objective experts. However, a landmark paper claimed that questionable research practices are widespread amongst scientists (Martinson, Anderson & de Vries, 2005). Furthermore, the psychological sciences, and many others, are beleaguered by a lack of robust replication studies (Ioannidis, 2012), and all too often fall prey to the seduction of ‘bite-sized’ science so adored by top journals (Bertamini and Munfano, 2012).
In September 2014 a group of psychological and cognitive scientists at the University of Amsterdam decided to harness this fervent introspection to promote positive change. They organised an excellent event, “Improving Scientific Practice: Dealing with the Human Factors”, which gave an overview of threats to the scientific enterprise and debated potential solutions, ranging from wide-scale cultural change, to pre-registration of study protocols, or harnessing new technologies that allow for data sharing and transparency. A group of five post-graduate students, Tom Hardwicke, Leila Jameel, Matthew Jones, Eryk Walczak and Lucia Weinberg, received funding from the Department of Experimental Psychology, UCL to attend. To read their review of the event, and views on the issues and solutions debated please see: http://www.opticon1826.com/article/view/opt.ch.
Whilst the issues discussed were not new, indeed many were highlighted decades ago, they have often brushed under the carpet. So, what is different this time?
- The power of scientists to tackle these things independently has shifted – technology (i.e. the internet and various data tools) allows researchers to share and scrutinise their own and others’ work more effectively.
- The scale of the scientific enterprise has grown rapidly in the past decade, whilst government funding of the sciences has dwindled. This creates a culture of fierce competition where individuals, and institutions (i.e. universities and grant-funders) become focused on outputs. Whilst there are sensible and noble intentions behind these measures, it ultimately creates a system that unduly rewards individuals on the basis of the quantity of their output (i.e. number of papers produced and amount of money received) or head-line worthy research. As opposed to a focus on the quality of their work (i.e. truly original contribution to research, or work that translates into real-world applications) or their contribution to the scientific community (i.e. mentoring or inspiring others, and working collaboratively with other research groups). In such a competitive system individuals can become focused on ‘bite-sized’ science, which allows them to churn out research that is quick to conduct and easily digestible by the reader. Randy Schekman (winner of the 2013 Nobel prize for Medicine) even suggested that “the incentives offered by top journals distort science, just as big bonuses distort banking.” For the full article please see: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/how-journals-nature-science-cell-damage-science).
- A human context has been provided. Rather than viewing researcher fraud as an isolated case of moral turpitude, scientists are beginning to acknowledge that they are human, and thus subject to the same biases and driven by the same motivations as any other individual. From the PhD student whose supervisor pressurises them to only report the studies that support their theories, to the postdoc who really needs one more paper for their CV to be in with a chance of winning that grant proposal, to the esteemed Professor who is so wedded to their views they unquestioningly dismiss alternative evidence. Scientists can be fooled and manipulated by the system and statistics that governs them and their work. Whilst this might seem like a depressing revelation it is actually very helpful. It allows scientists to view upholding research integrity as a joint endeavour and to realise their own limitations and to seek to mitigate these accordingly.
In their review Hardwicke et al. (2014) summarise these issues, and debate the relative merits of the proposed solutions for dealing with the ‘human factors in science’.
Bertamini, M., Munafo, M. (2012). Bite-size science and its undesirable side effects. Perspectives on Psychological Science 7(1) 67–71. DOI: http://dx/doi.org/10.1177/1745691611429353
Hardwicke, T.E., Jameel, L, Jones, M, Walczak, E.J. and Weinberg, L.M. (2014). Only human: Scientists, systems, and suspect statistics. Opticon1826 (16):25. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/opt.ch
Ioannidis, J.P.A (2012). Why most published research findings are false. Perspectives in Psychological Science, 7(6): 645-654. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal. pmed.0020124
Martinson, B. C., Anderson, M. S., de Vries, R. (2005) Scientists behaving badly. Nature, 435(7034): 737–738. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/435737a
On March 23rd and 24th 2015, the London Doctoral Training Centres will host their second annual conference organised by 2nd year ESRC funded students from a range of disciplines. The conference offers an excellent opportunity for PhD students to present and get feedback on their work,engage in academic debate and networking and think more creatively about their research.
Abstracts are invited for paper/ oral presentations and posters from London-based ESRC funded doctoral students. Abstracts should be submitted here http://goo.gl/forms/AAprBwBPE7 , submission details below.
The theme of the conference is “Creating and Communicating”, encouraging participants to offer insights from their different research topics and disciplines. This theme is not intended to restrict the scope of the papers and posters presented, which may be on any topic. Presentation sessions will be organised around sub-themes, and inter-disciplinarity is encouraged.
The programme will include:
– Two keynote speakers pioneering creative and innovative approaches to communicating research.
– A panel session with invited researchers, policy-makers, journalists etc. addressing traditional and novel methods for communicating with different audiences.
– An interactive activity focussing on inter-disciplinarity.
– A variety of presentation media and new ideas for communicating and disseminating research.
– An interactive poster session, with a prize for the best poster(s).
The conference is free to attend, and held at London School of Economics and Political Science. It lasts for two days (timings to be confirmed), and is non-residential. The programme includes lunch on both days, a drinks reception on the first evening and an evening dinner on the second day. (Please note that in order to manage the delegate list and budgets, a returnable £10 deposit will be required from every registered attendee. This will be refunded for all those who attend.)
Call for abstracts
Conference participants may either make an oral/ paper presentation or present a poster, and abstracts are invited for both. Given the theme of the conference, non-traditional forms of presentation are welcome. If you wish to discuss a proposed presentation method, or to discuss technical or equipment requirements, please email the organisers at
Please note the number of oral/ paper presentations is limited, and the selection committee may suggest an abstract is accepted for a poster presentation. If there are more submissions for oral/paper presentations than can be accommodated in the time available, priority will be given to 2nd year students, and there may be limits on the number of students from any one institution.
Participants making an oral/ paper presentation will be allocated 15 minutes for their presentation with limited additional time allowed for questions. Presenters are not expected to submit written papers, but the organisers can arrange for limited written materials to be circulated at or before the conference. Prizes will be awarded for the best poster presentations, with an opportunity for the winning posters to be presented at a plenary session.
– Please specify whether you are proposing to present a poster or an oral/ paper presentation. You may leave your proposal open, in which case it will be considered for both.
– Abstracts must be submitted using the form accessible here: http://goo.gl/forms/AAprBwBPE7. If there are any problems in making your submission please contact the organisers using the email address below.
– Please try to give your abstract a short title which clearly indicates the scope of your presentation.
– Abstracts for posters should be no more than 100 words, and for oral/ paper presentations should be no more than 300 words.
– Abstracts exceeding 400 words will not be considered.
The deadline for submission of abstracts is 10am on Monday 12 January 2015. Successful applicants will be notified by the end of January.
For further information on any aspect of this conference please email the organisers at email@example.com.
Good afternoon, Internet.
And in that greeting lies my current problems. What exactly goes on in the internet? What are all those people doing with it? Who are you, internet user? How did you get here? Why are you looking at my stuff? And what are you going to do with it afterwards, you sick freak?
Basically, as part of my research into online science-themed social networks, I’ve been making tentative steps into sociology of the internet. Which, you may be surprised to hear, is a RATHER LARGE TOPIC. There’s also rather a lot of people writing about it.1 Some of this lot suggest that, when you consider the history of mass communication, everything about the internet is just old news. Sometimes they have a point, particularly when countering naysaying claims that the internet heralds the corruption of youth and the end of humanity.1 My favourite example of…
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The election of the Pope, in 2005 and in 2013
Avid Sociology Lens readers (as I am sure you all are) will have already read Roger Tyler’s piece this week; “Digital Witness: Memory vs. Experience”. In it, he discusses his experiences of attending Glastonbury Festival and the summer solstice at Stonehenge, and how in both cases he felt showed examples of how obsessed we have become with the need to document and record our experiences as they are happening. Even as the fireworks go off or the sun comes up, we all reach for our smart phones; as if, if we don’t record something and share it with our friends it cannot possibly have happened.
By a strange coincidence (either offering support for the issue, or implying lack of imagination, I’m not sure which…) I was in the middle of writing an almost identical piece this week. Given that I am lazy, and there is no such thing as too much Sociological analysis, I want to build on the points made in the article, and see if I can usher in a few more theories along the way.
For me, the catalyst for thinking about this issue was attending a Prince concert in Londona few weeks ago. Prince has a history of being quite demanding and cagey about people recording him without permission (he is one of the few artists that has successfully sued individuals for posting his songs on Youtube, for example), and so when the email came through beforehand requesting that we did not take photos during the performance, I wasn’t surprised. I had also heard stories of people being ejected from the venue for taking pictures at early shows, presumably for the same reason. We were reminded again at the gig numerous times before the show started, and the show itself opened with his band, 3rd Eye Girl, coming out to remind us not to take pictures. Their reasoning was so similar to St Vincent (as Roger discusses) that I suspect one took the idea from the other; “Don’t take pictures, because we want you to experience things in the moment”.
The ability technology has to prevent us appreciating what it actually is to be ‘in the moment’ reminds me of one of my favourite lines from the comedian Dylan Moran, as a response to people’s outrage that he doesn’t use the internet.
“People look at you like you just fell out of a tree, you know, and they’re appalled, and they say, “Well, why not? You know, you can’t be up to date.” And you think: How can I be any more up to date? I’m alive now! That’s pretty current where I’m from.”
It is strange how we have convinced ourselves that being ‘up to date’ or ‘in the moment’ necessarily means experiencing something whilst also recording it, and offering it up as our own performance. The ubiquity of smart phone technology has made this easier than ever. Like Roger, I am concerned with this because it also means the creation of an unnecessarily large amount of ‘Crappy pictures’. A quick search on Instagram or Twitter shows this easily; thousands upon thousands of pictures that in no way come close to demonstrating what is was actually like to be there. Everyone is a photographer, a creative. This is not to denigrate the creative possibilities of these technologies, but it often isn’t any more creative than simply proving that ‘I was there’. It goes on like some kind of cyclical validation cycle: (Take picture of Prince, tweet picture of Prince so everyone knows I am here and what a great time I’m having, tag my friends who are also here, then their friends will also know what a great time we’re having watching Prince), and repeat ad nauseum, rather than just leaving our phones in our pockets and actually watching Prince.
The worrying thing about this habit is not necessarily the obsession with the recording itself, its that by recording and repackaging we end up with something that is simultaneously less good and more important to us than the original was in the first place. The recording, the image or the neat (re)construction stops being a representation of the experience and instead becomes the experience itself. As with Baudrillard’s Simulacra: “It is the map that engenders the territory”, and the boundaries between experience and imagined experience cease to exist. Much like the Matrix (one of my favourite go-to metaphors), the imaginary or exaggerated/tidied/smoothed/filtered memories are more real than the reality was in the first place.
I hope this is not the case, and I especially hope that more artists, musicians, lecturers, speakers have the initiative to ask people politely not to make their work into a simulacrum. Or perhaps instead, will find ways to integrate the desire to record with their own artistic integrity; as in recent play Privacy or Amanda Palmer in her riposte to the Daily Mail, both of which instructed the audience to get out their smart phones in order to be part of the entertainment. Mostly, I hope that we will not be the last generation to enjoy the experience of turning the recording off and just being ‘In the moment’. Whatever that might mean.
Authored by Ed Jones, PhD Student at the Bartlett School of Planning and conference co-organiser
On a sunny Monday afternoon, students from across London’s ESRC DTCs came together for the long awaited interdisciplinary conference. The rather verdant surroundings of London Business School provided the setting for two stimulating days of papers and discussion. Oxford University’s Prof Jo Boyden keynote lecture kicked off the conference with an engaging presentation exploring the methodological, ethical and epistemological challenges and opportunities of working across diverse disciplinary perspectives including economics, epidemiology and anthropology on the Young Lives Project, an ambitious mixed methods longitudinal research on child well-being. The parallel sessions later that afternoon covered a wide range of topics, from the economics of fiscal policy in a debt crisis to the changing nature of the middle class in Egypt. The presence of attendees from a variety of disciplines fostered interesting discussions, with sociologists and geographers engaging with a political science-focussed study of protests in Cairo in one of the sessions.
The evening poster session added another dimension to communicating across disciplines – participants rose to the challenge of presenting their research in a visually engaging way, sparking wide ranging discussions. The first day drew to a close with a three course meal courtesy of the LBS. Discussions continued in the pub, and a hardy handful of delegates pursued interdisciplinary debate late into the night in the Hotel Danubius bar. The second day saw the delegates split into groups for an interdisciplinary exercise, where participants used their imaginations and disciplinary perspectives to address the key issues, methods, drivers and possible outcomes of a scenario based around real world issues that drew on ESRC research themes.
The final round of parallel sessions then provided insights into a range of topics, including interdisciplinarity and corruption and digitally mediated social capital. Roger Burrows’ closing lecture provided much food for thought on the methodological challenges facing empirical social science research, and the opportunities brought by new technologies in allowing researchers to observe and understand the world. All in all, the conference provided a good arena for students to share the emerging findings of their research, develop understandings informed by other disciplines, and consider the opportunities and challenges presented by interdisciplinary working.