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Open science practices in different disciplines (1) - An interview with Prof. Peter de Jonge and Prof. Casper Albers, Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences

Date:09 September 2021
Author:Vera Heininga
The Faculty or Behavioural and Social Sciences
The Faculty or Behavioural and Social Sciences

The University of Groningen sees the development of Open Science as one of its priorities for the next 5 years. In this series of interviews, we explore the status of Open Science at the different UG faculties. For this first episode we interviewed Peter de Jonge and Casper Albers from the Behavioural and Social Sciences (BSS) Faculty.

Peter de Jonge is a Professor of Developmental Psychology and was recently appointed Vice Dean of Research of the BSS Faculty. In his new position, he will focus on the tenure-track system, more research into socially relevant problems, and open science. He aims for a culture change in which BSS staff collectively and cooperatively start embracing open science and open data.

Professor Casper Albers is a Professor of Applied Statistics and Data Visualisation, who focuses on longitudinal methods and the (scientific) communication of statistical information. He is one of the UG's open access ambassadors and advocates transparent and replicable research with data handling according to the FAIR principles. Recently, he was appointed Director of Research of the Heymans Institute for Psychological Research at the BSS Faculty.

We are moving towards a future where there is only one way to do science and that is open science” ~ Casper Albers

Why is open science important in the social sciences?

PJ: In the social sciences a relatively large amount of empirical data is collected - a step in the research cycle in which transparency is of great importance. The more transparency with regard to the data collection, a priori hypotheses and the underlying code, the greater the chance that we can minimize errors and non-reproducible research findings.

CA: The social sciences are poorly reproducible 'by design'. The data is often not publicly available because of GDPR concerns. Also, findings tend to be harder to replicate, because they depend on properties of the peculiar sample of participants that was studied. We are therefore even more obliged than other sciences to be open and transparent in our research.

What is the current state of affairs in terms of open science at the BSS faculty?

PJ: In recent years, much progress has been made within the BSS faculty to make research more open. An example is the faculty-wide data storage protocol that was introduced in 2019. This allows external parties to gain insight into the data and the syntax of research. At the moment we are working on a research support portal in which several steps of conducting research are integrated: from ethical approval and option to reserve lab space to actual data, syntax and publication. For a specific research project, all these steps are stored together digitally, which will make our research even more transparent.

CA: Steps have also been taken in the provision of information. In the BA of Psychology, for instance, we address the replication crisis and how more transparency in research could help solve this. We also organize workshops and seminars to inform staff about how to be more transparent in their research.

Which objectives do you want to achieve in the upcoming two years with regard to the implementation of open science?

PJ: The support department within the BSS faculty has developed a local (support) portal for researchers to gain ethical approval and access to lab space. We want to expand this tool in the next two years, for example by creating the possibility to also store the data centrally. This way, there are opportunities to identify exactly which data have been collected within the faculty, which datasets could be reused, but also whether certain datasets could be linked together.

CA: I would be pleased with more transparency via the BSS research support portal, especially if researchers could also be motivated to pre-register their research. I would also like to offer more incentives to motivate them, for example by making our BSS internet research fund1 more in favour of those who practice open science. The philosophy behind open science could also be better highlighted. Research Master’s students, for example, should not only learn a lot about how to be transparent and where the data should be placed but also, and most importantly, why that is important.

What obstacles and challenges do you expect in achieving these objectives, and how will you overcome them?

CA: The biggest challenge will be to get the established order moving. That is the generation that grew up doing "closed" science. While young researchers experience a momentum change, the more established order sees little benefit in making the switch to more transparent science. Setting a good example is one of the ways to get researchers on board (e.g., applying a multiverse analysis).

Casper, Peter and Vera discuss open science at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences
Casper, Peter and Vera discuss open science at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences

PJ: Another obstacle is that researchers who have collected data do not want to make it public. Researchers often fear that others will soon be ahead of them in answering the same research question. We must inform those researchers that publishing a dataset can also have advantages. The fact that others can use the data also offers opportunities for collaboration. You achieve the biggest breakthroughs by working together.

Last year Dutch universities pleaded for new ways of recognizing and rewarding academic work (See the position paper 'Room for everybody's talent'). How do you want to change the reward and recognition of open science practices at the BSS faculty?

PJ: In particular by subtly shifting the focus. For example, by putting forward open researchers for certain prizes and memberships, or by inviting researchers to give public lectures on the psychological effects of COVID-19 or the dichotomy in society, and others. And finding more ways of increasing society relevance and impact of our work. And I say 'subtly' because it is important not to 'throw the baby away with the bathwater'. What I mean is that we as a university have stimulated our staff to be productive and to have impact in the scientific field. Many researchers have been evaluated in part by using criteria like the H-index, although in our faculty this tendency never was that strong. Anyway it would not be wise to give people the feeling that their work has been meaningless - this is neither fair nor right. And it is still the case that, despite limitations to such criteria, there is a certain merit attached to them. Next year I intend to discuss the pros and cons and the sensitivities in this discussion with researchers in our faculty, as I think it is important to look for common ground rather than to make this too much into a polemic situation: it is not 'Open Science or nothing', but it should be 'How to improve Science by using Open Science principles'.

CA: Indeed, recognizing and rewarding open science practices in a subtle way is more helpful than changing the rules of the game. I think the first step is to offer more positive incentives and to motivate people without too much top-down enforcement. We want researchers to start doing open science because they see it as a better way of doing science, not because the system forces them to. Proper recognition of open science starts with explicitly showing that it is valued. That is, we could pay attention to it during our annual Heymans symposium, or indeed by inviting researchers to give more public lectures to literally be more ‘open’ to society.

Open science also blends with education (e.g., supervision of theses). To what extent do BSS students learn about open science research practices, and how is it ensured that they apply them in their bachelor’s and/or master’s theses?

CA: All bachelor’s and master’s students must follow the data storage protocol when writing their thesis. It includes regulations regarding open data and transparency about analysis code, although its application will differ per supervisor.

PJ: In the future, it would be great if we could work towards a so-called data warehouse. This is an open database  to which several researchers from our faculty contribute and which allows  for combinations of data. The data - with well-described metadata of course - could then be prepared for students who wish to write a master's thesis on the basis of a data storage protocol under the provision of a pre-registration. This would be a perfect integration between conducting open science and education.

(1) The Internet Research Fund of the BSS aims to generally enhance the scientific output of the departments by making immediate funding available to outsource data collection to a survey panel company like Flycatcher (NL) or Qualtrics Panels (EU), for the purpose of recruiting specialized samples to complete online surveys (e.g., smokers, parents, office workers…). Researchers can also request money for access to new and emerging Internet-based data that would otherwise be out of reach: Big Data-bases (e.g., browser search behavior), smartphone tracking, Web-based diary studies, and so on.


Update: Recently, after this interview was conducted, the BSS faculty established an open access committee. This committee consists of Dr. Diana van Bergen, Prof. Don van Ravenzwaaij, Dr. Rink Hoekstra, Dr. Beau Oldenburg, and Dr. Mark Span.

About the author

Vera Heininga

Vera Heininga is Open Science programme manager of the University Groningen and postdoctoral research at the Interdisciplinary Centre Psychopathology and Emotion regulation (ICPE) of the UMCG.