“Set the default to ‘Open'” – Impressions from the OpenCon2014

In November 2014, 150 early-career researchers and students met in Washington D.C. for OpenCon, organized by the Right to Research Coalition, to talk about the movement to open science up – be it through Open Access to published literature, Open Data, or Open Educational Resources. The three day event offered lectures and panels on the state of the open today, but also served as an incubator for the future of the whole debate that spans universities, research funders, and publishers. It was an opportunity for the already experienced advocates and academics to interact with the younger generation of students and researchers interested in these issues.

What follows is a short slice through the conference, heard and experienced by two of the four EFPSAns attending the conference – EFPSA’s Social Impact’s Ivan Flis and myself, with us piecing out short reports from memory, online presentations, and notes taken during the conference. You can find a more opinionated piece based on the conference here.

Patrick Brown and bringing down with pre-publication peer-review

Pat Brown of Stanford University talked about his experience as a co-founder of PLoS One, what is currently the biggest Open Access journal out there, serving as a prototypical example for all the mega-journals that were to follow:how it all got started, and the beginning ideas behind PLoS One that were even more radical than the resulting exceptionally successful and ever-growing mega-journal.

His main message was that the pre-publication peer-review is a rotten thing, in his words, worse than useless.

Pre-publication peer review, he argued, slows down the publication of otherwise important results. The whole model is built around researchers sending their manuscripts to the journal that would just barely accept it, and then when it gets rejected, just going down a notch and trying again. The inundation of articles and the proliferation of journals to create a prestige pyramid is the end result, which is a very inefficient system according to Brown.

This aspect of the movement for open is usually toned down – the moderate advocates are interested in protecting the public interest. Access for everybody first, radical criticism of the academic system second. Considering this, it was quite refreshing to see that some members of the open community were still thinking big, and thinking about the institutional fundamentals like peer-review. It set quite a tone for the rest of the conference.

Audrey Watters and what do we mean with open?

On the second day, Audrey Watters, a freelance writer and dabbler in many things including hacking education, talked about open data in an educational context. Her sobering talk issued a challenge to the open community to think through what does open as an adjective and as an ideological banner actually mean. As she said, the open, despite our best interests, doesn’t always pan out in the positive way.

Watters built the argument from her tweet that kept resurfacing from time to time, even though it was sent into the ephemeral twitterosphere a few years ago – the tweet gives a definition of whitewashing in the context of the open discussions:

Openwashing n., having an appearance of open-source and open-licensing for marketing purposes, while continuing proprietary practices.

We readily understand what openwashing means: How an industry operating within closed systems is quick to wrap itself in the language and imagery that makes it look more friendly and more progressive. More so, Watters challenged the audience at OpenCon and went a step further than singling out the corporate wolves-in-open-clothes, calling out the advocates and the iconoclasts of the open for giving the appearance of being apolitical, or neutral. Data, especially in the educational setting, is not neutral, thus, the position calling to open it up cannot be neutral, she argues. The data in this case comes with the inequalities built into it, and those inequalities will not be ameliorated by just opening it up. Her call is for capacity and agency building in the communities that get the access to this data. It is not enough for open advocates to provide the technical and the licensing framework of open data/education/science, but it is also crucial for them to empower people to use those newfound resources in a constructive way, through policies and political action. 

Student contributions

In two panels, students from all over the world had the chance to speak about their projects on Open Access. Georgina Taylor from Australia presented the Open Access Button: a tool that tracks which papers you can’t excess – but also helps you to actually get the paper you are looking for! You can download it easily as an add-on to your browser. When you are asked to pay for a paper, you press the button and the paper will be tried to track down for you – elsewhere in the web or by sending an email to the author.


Chris Noone and Ivan Flis presenting their study

Ivan, together with Chris Noone, former Board of Management member of EFPSA, got to present their study on the state of Open Access in Europe. While we would all agree that access to papers is a problem, surprisingly, not much data exists on how much access students actually have. Thus, Ivan and Chris, together with Jonas Haslbeck want to investigate differences in the level of access to scientific literature students have across different countries and universities in Europe. If there are any, how large are the discrepancies and what contributes to them? You can find the study here.

Erin McKiernan and why early career researchers should be Open

According to Erin McKiernan, a experimental and computational neuroscientist, it’s quite simple, really: being open means you research is more visible, you are cited more and thus have a bigger impact. Erin also debunked the myth that Open Access journals are not as high quality as the more conservative journals – there are OA journals with a moderate to high impact factor – but the impact factor does of course not say a lot about quality. What’s more, though, is that the retraction rates are higher in closed journals and peer review is often not made transparent.

If money is an issue, and for early researchers it sure is, she tells us that many journals offer waivers, especially for authors from developing countries, or do not even have APCs. Also, many institutions have funds specifically dedicate to OA publishing and recently, more and more charity organisations are asking their scholars to publish open access – for example the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK, or the European Commission.

She also gives some advice on how to talk to your supervisor or mentor about going open access – but see for yourself (slides can be found here)

You can also find the conference schedule, many of the presentation slides, and other conference resources here. All the presentations were filmed, and you can watch them at the Right to Research Coalition Youtube channel.

Bayesian Statistics: What is it and Why do we Need it?

prlipohellThere is a revolution in statistics happening: The Bayesian revolution. Psychology students who are interested in research methods (which I hope everyone is!) should know what this revolution is about. Gaining this knowledge now instead of later might spare you lots of misconceptions about statistics as it is usually instructed in psychology, and it might help you gain a deeper understanding of the foundations of statistics. To make sure that you can try out everything you learn immediately, I conducted analysis in the free statistics software R (www.r-project.org; click HERE for a tutorial how to get started with R, and install RStudio for an enhanced R-experience) and I provide the syntax for the analysis directly in the article so you can easily try them out. So let’s jump in: What is “Bayesian Statistics”, and why do we need it? Continue reading

Interview with Prof. David Barlow

Prof. Barlow is a professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Boston University and founder of  Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. His research focuses on understanding the nature of anxiety and depression and developing new treatments for emotional disorders. He also developed the Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders david.barlow

What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher …  What I learned very early is that there is nothing I do not enjoy about my job! Continue reading

Crowdsource your research with style

Would you like to collect data quick and efficiently? Would you like to have a sample that generalizes beyond western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic participants? While you acknowledge social media as a powerful means to distribute your studies, you feel that there must be a “better way”? Then this practical introduction to crowdsourcing is exactly what you need. I will show you how to use Crowdflower, a crowdsourcing platform to attract participants from all over the world to take part in your experiments. However, before we get too excited, let’s quickly go through the relevant terminology. Continue reading

Interview with Prof. Nelson Cowan

Nelson Cowan is a Curators’ Professor of Psychology at the University of Missouri. His research focuses on short-term memory, working memory and selective attention in information processing. Amongst other findings, Cowan is well known for bringing the working memory capacity down from Millers magical 7+/-2 items to a more realistic 3-4 items. cowan_new

What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher … I enjoy the ability to decide what aspect of the human mind to investigate, and how to investigate it.  Continue reading

Interview with Dr. David Klemanski

David Klemanski is Director of the Yale Center for Anxiety and Mood Disorders and lecturer of Psychology and Psychiatry. His research interests include mood and anxiety disorders (e.g., social phobia, generalised anxiety disorder, PTSD) in adolescents. His recent research focuses on individual differences in emotion regulation strategies. droppedImage_1

What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher … On a professional level, I most enjoy the opportunity to contribute to a wider area of knowledge in psychological science.  Continue reading

Interview with Prof. Daniel Simons

Daniel Simons is Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois. His lab does research on visual cognition, attention, perception, memory, change blindness, metacognition and intuition. He is especially well known for his experiments on inattentional blindness, e.g. the famous invisible gorilla experiment.


What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher … I get the most enjoyment from analyzing new data to see what we found. That moment when you learn what you found continues to be rewarding no matter how many studies you’ve done. I also enjoy writing and editing. There are few aspects of the research process I don’t like, actually. Continue reading

Interview with Prof. Ralph Hertwig

Ralph Hertwig is director of the Center for Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. He is well known for his interdisciplinary research on cognitive search, judgment, and decision making under risk and uncertainty. To this end, his lab uses a wide array of methods, ranging from experiments, surveys, and computer simulations to neuroscientific tools. 

Ralph Hertwig

What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher … What I most enjoy is the opportunity to team up with people from other fields or schools of thought and produce something I could never have come up with on my own. Continue reading

Interview with Prof. Steven Luck

Steven J. Luck is Professor of Psychology and the Director of the Center for Mind & Brain at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Luck is known for his research on the neural and cognitive mechanisms of attention and working memory in healthy young adults and dysfunctions of attention and working memory in psychiatric and neurological disorders. He is also a leading authority on ERP research and leads ERP Boot Camps.


What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher … What I enjoy most is designing experiments.  We can’t see or touch the human mind, so it is a great challenge to figure out creative ways of testing hypotheses about cognitive processes.   Continue reading

Interview with Prof. Daniel Gilbert

Daniel T. Gilbert is Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He is a social psychologist known for his research on affective forcasting, with a special emphasis on cognitive biases such as impact bias. He is the author of the international bestseller Stumbling on Happiness, which has been translated into more than 25 languages. He is also very well known for his TED talks, which were watched over 10 million times.


What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher … is working with my collaborators, who range from undergraduates to full professors. Spending your life exploring ideas is a pleasure, but spending your life exploring them with friends is a joy. Continue reading