In case you missed it, this piece appeared the ISR Blog earlier in June. Liam Bullingham and Matthew Greenhalgh explain how research can be more transparent, and the benefits this provides.
Making your research process ‘transparent’ or ‘reproducible’ means using open practices where possible. Here, those people making use of the research (policy makers, practitioners, members of the public) can scrutinise your work or ‘look under the hood’ to learn more about it.
However, making research transparent is easier said than done.
You might share your dataset or code, include an open licence, upload a preprint, use open methodologies, and more. All this takes up valuable time, can clash with ethics, and there is no guarantee that readers will significantly benefit or that you or your co-investigators will be rewarded. In a climate of ‘publish or perish’, time is precious.
…So why do it?
Transparency, reproducibility and social responsibility
Considering what social responsibility means in this context, researchers at Duke University see research as ideally being, valuable to society, rigorous and trustworthy, and conducted with integrity for the benefit of people.
In a polarised society, research integrity is clearly important. Anti-science perspectives are enabled when the source is perceived to be biased or lack credibility, so transparency can not only help us meet our social obligations and improve the quality of our research, but it could also enhance the perception of it too.
A recent Economist article discussed fraud in medical research, with stories of fabricated data, manipulated images and retracted papers. When bad actors are free to bypass transparency and conceal the detail, it enables them to escape scrutiny and damage the reputation of research.
Research at Edge Hill
Following The Concordat to Support Research Integrity and The UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN), we formed the Edge Hill Reproducibility Group to explore how the University’s research can be more transparent. We have since joined UKRN and look forward to introducing and encouraging more open practices here.
An early step on this journey is demonstrating what good practice looks like and how transparent research happens in different disciplines. Here are some examples:
- Psychology: this systematic review was pre-registered – a measure which improves the quality and transparency of research. It also displays the PLOS ‘Accessible Data Icon’.
- Biology: later published in a journal, this preprint was initially uploaded to BioRxiv, enabling research users to access the findings 6 months early
- Creative Arts: here, the research project is documented through a series of photographs and licenced for re-use by other researchers with a Creative Commons licence.
While open data, as seen in the natural and physical sciences, naturally holds its place within the discourse of transparent and reproducible research more readily, within other disciplines – particularly those utilising less empirical methodologies – the idea of ‘reproducibility’ may appear incompatible or contentious.
Nevertheless, transparency is a value, and this transcends disciplinary norms, while meeting responsibilities to our research users. The phrase, “As open as possible, as closed as necessary” encapsulates this.
As we grow the membership and ambition of the Edge Hill Reproducibility Group, we aim to help the University make a greater contribution to the transparent research agenda.
Liam Bullingham is Head of Research Support Services, based in Library and Learning Services
Matthew Greenhalgh is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Secondary, Further Education and Training Department at Edge Hill University.