For us Editors of JEPS, one of the most important topics in current psychological science and beyond are the issues of replicability and reproducibility [for an introduction, see Galetzka, 2019], as well as possible paths to solutions.
The keyword here is Open Science, an umbrella term for activities which strive to make science more transparent, openly accessible, and reproducible, in an effort to increase our confidence in the results we read in the body of scientific literature.
While many Open Science initiatives are led by more senior researchers, the movement is fundamentally driven by bottom-up initiatives of early-career researchers, but students as well.
For this interview, we sat down and got together with one of these student-led initiatives: The PsyFaKo’s Open Science Initiative [OSIP, Open Science Initiative der PsyFaKo e.V., webpage in German], a working group in the German Convention of Student Councils of Psychology. They made headlines in the landscape of German psychology last year when they released a position paper on the Replication Crisis and Open Science, which had a considerable impact at German universities.
Johannes Brachem, the initiative’s founder and speaker, and Maximilian Frank, current co-speaker and designated speaker over the next term, sat down with us to talk about Open Science and their engagement and plans for students in Germany.
First up, as most readers will not be aware of who you are yet, could you briefly introduce yourself?
Johannes: I’m 27 years old and just finished my M.Sc. in Psychology at the Georg-August-University in Göttingen, Germany. I’ve always had a comparatively strong interest in methods and statistics in the course of my studies, and in October 2018 I started a second M.Sc. programme in Applied Statistics, also in Göttingen.
Maximilian: I currently study in the Master programme “Human Factors in Engineering” at TU Munich. I recently finished my bachelor’s degree in Psychology in Munich at the LMU. Since the beginning of my studies, I was working as a student assistant for statistics and methods at the LMU, therefore I am interested to impart statistical knowledge in a didactical manner.
What was the initial motivation that made you form the Open Science working group? What did you originally want to achieve?
Johannes: After I got in touch with the topic through a course on Open Science in Göttingen, I simply thought that it’s a very important topic that students should be aware of. So I gave an introductory talk and drafted a position paper for the 27th PsyFaKo in Würzburg. Our working group formed itself during that conference as a group of people working on the draft. We worked on through the whole weekend, and most of us wanted to continue working on the topic, so we decided to try and become an official, elected working group of the PsyFaKo. Our goals were to spread information about Open Science amongst psychology students and to actively participate in the discussion. Many of our projects, like for example our survey, were already on our agenda back then. I certainly did not expect or plan with such a strong response when I first began working on the talk and position paper.
Maximilian: My first contact with OpenScience was in a practical research course during my bachelor, in which a very engaged lecturer drew my attention to the topic and encouraged us to show a critical attitude towards psychological findings. As I was very involved in student academic self-organisation, I thought it would be a good idea to set-up a working group for OpenScience matters also at the PsyFaKo. Finally, the intention was to make progress for all psychology students in Germany, and not only pursuing it as a private endeavour.
Why do you think Open Science is important going forward – especially to students, many of whom strive to continue a career outside of academia?
Johannes: Even if you strive for a career outside academia, the value of your education depends a lot on the knowledge you gain in the course of your studies. If that knowledge is just a collection of loosely collected, unreliable research results, that’s a huge problem. You might end up basing important decisions that significantly affect people’s lives on false-positive research results. Because of that, we must make every effort to gain a reliable and systematic body of knowledge. I am convinced that Open Science is an important step towards more reliable research, although it certainly isn’t enough.
Maximilian: In addition to the points already mentioned by Johannes, which I absolutely agree with, it is also important to communicate to students openly and not to conceal this “blurring” of the psychological findings. This is also aiming at a few lecturers seeing OpenScience as a pure topic for master students since undergraduate students are not yet able to cope with it. As an empirical science gaining knowledge mainly by the application of statistical methods, absolute statements, which might be partially possible in natural science, are inappropriate in psychology. Therefore, it is necessary to teach students about contradictory findings for psychological effects as a matter of fact and not only as “black and white thinking”.
What has happened since the group’s foundation in June of 2018? What were your biggest achievements?
Johannes: There’s a lot going on in our group. Our first success was the PsyFaKo position paper on psychology’s replication crisis and Open Science. We also organised a panel discussion and a talk at the PsyFaKo 2018 in Hildesheim, Germany. Our probably biggest achievement so far was a survey amongst German psychology students. Among other things, we asked about questionable research practices in students’ projects such as bachelor’s and master’s theses. More than 1400 people participated so that we think we can learn some valuable things from the data. We are currently writing a report and hope to publish it in 2020.
You mentioned the position paper – what do you call for specifically? Which changes would you want to see implemented in curricula and universities?
Johannes: Basically, we want to see both the replication crisis and Open Science practices like preregistration as substantial components of the curriculum. And that shouldn’t be restricted to methods courses: We think that also e.g. in a lecture on social or developmental psychology, the robustness of the presented research needs to be a part of the teaching material.
We also demand that all final theses should be preregistered. We don’t necessarily mean public registrations. In many cases in Germany, students are required to write an exposé for their thesis anyway – we could simply modify this format to resemble a preregistration.
Final theses should also be allowed to be replications. A student can still learn a lot by conducting a replication study, and using student’s theses to conduct replication studies could indeed be very useful in the effort to test the robustness of popular findings.
Apart from that, the criteria for hiring researchers need to change: It is vital that universities move away from the narrow focus on citation counts and instead take criteria like reproducibility and transparency more seriously.
Maximilian: Just a small addition to this – recently the thirteenth psychology professorship was announced with the explicit mention of OpenScience criteria in the vocation text [for a curated list, see here]. We are happy to see a positive development towards some of the changes we are calling for and we hope that examples like this will have a positive effect and trigger more universities to opt for this innovative step.
How has the reception of your demands and activity been – by students, but also faculty?
Johannes: So far, we have received almost exclusively positive and encouraging feedback. At the past PsyFaKos, our events were quite well received by the other students, even though only a fraction of them want to become researchers themselves. Personally, I am happy to see how many students show a keen interest in Open Science.
But also more senior researchers – mostly from other Open Science initiatives – have so far reacted quite positively, although some are worried about additional workloads, e.g. when it comes to preregistering final theses. And they have a point: The solution to the problem of reproducibility cannot be to simply increase the pressure on researchers further and further. They need the time and resources necessary to do a good job, and this is a point where the precarious conditions for academics in Germany become very relevant. But I guess covering that topic as well goes a little too far now.
Apart from that, after the last PsyFaKo in Hildesheim, the DGPS (German Psychological Society) working group on Open Science invited us to participate in their meetings, and we were happy to accept that offer. A nice sign that we are being taken seriously.
Maximilian: We received very positive feedback from both the student and the faculty side. As a working group, we are also greatly expanding our contacts in the science community and interest groups. Johannes has already mentioned the contact to the DGPs – in addition, we have been in touch with the student members of the BDP e.V. (Association of German Professional Psychologists) and the Journal of European Psychology Students since the last PsyFaKo; Therefore, many thanks for this interview [Editor’s note: You are very welcome!]. Since OpenScience is not an exclusive topic for us, we look forward to every contact person who is open to our goals and possible cooperation.
What is up on the horizon for you?
Johannes: The last few months, we were preparing our program for the next PsyFaKo and writing the report on our survey. On top of that, we are setting up a mailing list for students who want to get informed, and are also working on our own web presence – there’s always a lot to do.
Maximilian: Additionally, to the report we are currently writing, OSIP was reconfirmed as a working group at the last PsyFaKo in Landau. That means we are again mandated for a semester to push our topic forward. Right now our group faces a “generational change” in the AG, as some of the members are already in higher Master’s semesters and are thus completing their studies soon, so we were very happy to find five new volunteers to ensure that no knowledge is lost and our started projects will be continued by new members.
Johannes: I just finished my M.Sc. in Psychology and did not attend this summer’s PsyFaKo – I’ll keep working on the projects that I started (mainly the report on our survey), but give way for the younger members of our group to take over control. Apart from that, I’ll probably want to pursue a PhD program at some point, since I’m quite passionate about research, as you might tell.
Maximilian: Personally I am interested in promoting Open Science also in interdisciplinary psychology study programs. For example, in my Master Human Factors, there is little to no attention to this topic, although we work heavily with statistical methods. On the HuMITec Barcamp 2019, a meeting of Human-Factors-students across Germany, which I was attending in Berlin, we also discussed about Open Science but we need definitely more awareness for this topic.
Thank you very much to both of you for taking the time! We are looking forward to working with you, trying to advance the knowledge and application of Open Science with students in Germany and all over Europe!
If you want to get in contact with OSIP, write them at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow them on Twitter (@psyfako_).
If you want to get in contact with Johannes (@jobrachem) or Max (@epizyklen), write (and follow) them on Twitter.