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Promoting Openness and Transparency in Social Science Research

Image credit: Transparency, Fay Ratta, Flickr, CC BY
Image credit: Transparency, Fay Ratta, Flickr, CC BY

We’re delighted to welcome Guillaume Kroll, Program Manager at the Center for Effective Global Action, California’s leading research institute on global development and poverty alleviation, as our first ever guest blogger.

That we have chosen to highlight the social sciences in this first guest post is not by accident! Over the last few months, we’ve been thinking carefully about how to achieve one of our goals which is “to broaden Open Access beyond the sciences”. You can read more about our research project here.

Now over to Guillaume…

In recent years, there have been significant efforts to enhance the rigor and quality of evidence in the social sciences. Most notably, there is a widespread shift toward field experiments that test policy interventions using randomized treatment and control groups, in a manner similar to medical trials. This approach, advanced in part by development economists, has increased our ability to identify causal relationships between interventions and their social impacts, yielding information that is useful for policy-makers, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector alike.

However, it is not clear that more rigorous research methods have directly translated into better policy, or into programs that improve people’s lives. In practice, social science remain highly susceptible to bias, over-inference, lack of transparency, and even fraud. Researchers argue that these failures result from distorted incentives and weaknesses in the institutions that govern social science. These constraints make it difficult for scholars to assess the validity of prior work, establish scientific consensus, and definitively answer questions of broad importance.

Failures in the integrity of social science research are especially problematic when study results are used for policy design, since a single policy can affect millions of people, over many years.

To address these problems, a group of social science researchers established the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS). BITSS is a network of economists, political scientists, and psychologists committed to increase the standards of rigor and integrity across social science disciplines. Since its inception, BITSS has supported collaboration among academic researchers, graduate students, journal editors, and policy-makers interested in improving the quality of evidence for decision-making. Central to BITSS efforts is the identification of useful strategies and tools for maintaining research transparency, including the use of study registries, pre-analysis plans, data sharing, and replication.

On December 11-12, 2014, BITSS will be holding a Research Transparency Forum at the University of California, Berkeley. The two-day conference will bring together academic leaders, scholarly publishers, and policy-makers to discuss recent innovations in journal practices, academic training, data sharing, and evidence-based policy in light of the push for increased transparency. BITSS is currently accepting the submission of papers to be presented and discussed at the conference.

Increasing the reliability and accuracy of scientific evidence requires well-defined standards of methodological rigor. At the same time, new tools and strategies to increase transparency must be integrated into existing research workflows to facilitate adoption. As the social sciences reinvent their practices around data, it is absolutely the right moment to build new channels of collaboration, cross-learning, and dissemination for innovative, open research practices.

To register to the Research Transparency Forum, please visit the BITSS Annual Meeting page.