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Cracking Open the Social Sciences: Leamer and Rosenthal Strike Again

Temina Madon, executive director, Center for Effective Global Action | May 13, 2015

The demand for transparency in science has never been stronger. Today’s most influential publishers, professional societies, think tanks, and funders are all calling for open and reproducible research.

The U.S. government has recently set new standards for Federally funded studies– and even the private sector has begun releasing data, analyses, and software (often associated with regulatory activities). This was not the case 5 or 10 years ago.

To accelerate this process, we are excited to announce the launch of the Leamer-Rosenthal Prize in Open Social Science. Yes, Leamer and Rosenthal strike again!

In fact there have been concerns with the transparency of research for more than 35 years. In 1979, psychologist Bob Rosenthal coined the term “file drawer problem,” referring to the failure of researchers and journals to report null and non-significant findings. The resulting bias in the publication record, favoring positive and large results at the expense of less “interesting” findings, has led to a distorted view of the world.

(Indeed, we are discovering that the universe of scientific discoveries is filled with dark matter!)

In 1982, Ed Leamer followed with a treatise on fishing in econometrics, and the resulting fragility of our scientific inferences. Despite this clarion call, the discipline has plugged along for many decades, with relatively few changes in reporting norms.

What has changed in the last few years? For one, advances in data storage, management, and computing have enabled researchers to more easily share their work publicly. The real costs to transparency are now quite low.

In tandem, we’ve seen an uptick in the detection of academic fraud, which has made policy-makers and research funders more aware of the need for transparency in science. There is also a growth in ‘citizen science,’ led by data scientists outside the ivory tower who are reanalyzing and reusing researchers’ data in useful ways. The returns to open science have never been so high.

So the time is ripe to transform the empirical sciences.

To accelerate this process, we are excited to announce the launch of the Leamer-Rosenthal Prize in Open Social Science. Yes, Leamer and Rosenthal strike again!

The prize is offered through the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in Social the Sciences (BITSS), an international network of scholars first assembled at a small meeting on the Berkeley campus, back in December 2012.

The award recognizes young researchers and educators whose work exemplifies the practice of reproducible, transparent scientific discovery. We hope that the prize, while recognizing contributions from earlier generations, will transform scientific practice well into the future.

Policy makers are increasingly using research to design policies and programs. This means that our work can affect millions of lives, for better or for worse. So it’s our obligation, as scientists, to ensure that the evidence we produce is as replicable and open as possible.

Comment to “Cracking Open the Social Sciences: Leamer and Rosenthal Strike Again

  1. One could argue that the era of peer-reviewed journals as the most important source for recent scientific finding has come to an end. That some journals will publish almost anything also indicates this.

    On the other hand, today it’s really simple to share data and conduct transparent research, which will make it easier for “null findings” to get noticed. This might also encourage more interdisciplinary research projects. Here is a blog on that topic that I can recommend.

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