a learning adventure

A growing number of scientists felt this had to change. The year before, in 2014, I had read Stephen Levy's Hackers and, from there, went on to read more about Richard Stallman, Eric S. Raymond, and Linus Torvalds. For me, it was a revelation. The free and open source software community, I felt, showed how science could be different. The pervasiveness of Linux showed that tens of thousands of people with different views and goals could collaborate on an complex project for the common good. Just as important, they could do so without necessarily having to like each other all the time. That was good news for science. Discussions between academics can get ... let's just say "heated".

So, in the same way that computing has its advocates of open-source software, psychology and other sciences started gaining advocates for Open Science. The phrase Open Science had been coined back in 1998 by Steve Mann, but once the Replication Crisis hit psychology, a lot more of us began to sit up and take notice. Early on, the Centre for Open Science, a non-profit company started in 2013, had set up the Open Science Framework (OSF). The OSF is a web-based public repository for experiment-related data and code. It's built entirely from free and open source software.

As awareness of the Replication Crisis grew, peer reviewers started insisting that data and code was made publicly available. Peer review in research is a bit like a code review in IT. Scientists send their articles to a journal for consideration. The journal sends the article out to experts in the field for comment, and the work is accepted for publication only when the journal editor thinks those comments have been adequately addressed. In 2015, Richard Morey and colleagues started the Peer Reviewers' Openness Initiative, a declaration that they would not recommend any paper for publication unless it met certain basic standards of open science. Within three years, over 500 peer reviewers in psychology had signed that declaration.

Open Platforms and R

R logo There was still one major problem to solve. Publishing your scientific source code is essential for open science, but it's not enough. For fully open science, you also need the platforms on which that code runs to be open. Without open platforms, the future usability of open source code is at risk. For example, there was a time when many experiments in psychology were written in Microsoft Visual Basic 6, or in Hypercard. Both were closed source platforms, and neither are now supported by their vendors. It is just not acceptable to have the permanent archival records of science rendered unusable in this way. Equally, it's a pretty narrow form of Open Science, if only those who can afford to purchase a particular piece of proprietary software are able to access it. All journal articles published in psychology since around 1997 are in PDF format. Academic libraries would not tolerate these archival files being in a proprietary format such as DOCX. We can and must apply the same standards of openness to the platforms on which we base our research.

Psychology has a long history of using closed-source platforms, perhaps most notably the proprietary data analysis software SPSS. SPSS was initially released in 1968, and was acquired by IBM in 2010. Bizarrely, SPSS is such a closed platform that current versions can't open SPSS output files if they were generated before 2007! Although it's still the most used data analysis software in psychology, its use has been declining steeply since 2009. What's been taking up the slack?

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