Research Spotlight: Dr. Davis-Kean on open and reproducible science

Research Spotlight: Dr. Davis-Kean on open and reproducible science

Dr. Pamela Davis-Kean, MIDAS Associate Director, Professor of Psychology and Research Professor at the Institute for Social Research, will go to the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a Program Officer in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economics (SBE) for the Developmental Sciences Program. She is a strong advocate for open science and reproducible research, and is happy to share her thoughts with our readers.

Q: Why the Developmental Sciences Program?

Pam: This program supports research that examines developmental processes from birth to death across time, including changes in cognitive, biological, social and other aspects of development overtime, such as cognitive development and decline, personal achievements and economic outcomes. Such research resonates strongly with me, given my own research focus on understanding the impact of parents’ socioeconomic status on their children. In addition, NSF is interested in maximizing the use of existing data that they’ve invested in as well as making sure that the research being done is rigorous and reproducible. I am a big advocate for bringing practices for open, rigorous, and reproducible science to social science research, so I hope to make a difference in this regard, too, for the Developmental Sciences Program. 

Q: Why are open science and reproducible research important?

Pam: The issue of accessibility to data, code and documentation is the core of open science. For example, how can code be replicated, or findings reproduced by others? It’s become a real issue that many experiments cannot be accurately reproduced because researchers often make decisions in their research workflow that aren’t documented in a meaningful way, or that the code or documentation is not easily accessible to others.

The open science movement is more about sharing research information with other researchers, and the broader community.. Since the NIH and NSF are funded by taxpayers money to do science, then that community along with the scientific community should have access to the science produced by the agencies in some form. Currently, the primary system of getting access to science is through scientific publications in journals. This system is currently set up to benefit the for-profit publishers that own these journals and not the broader community.. For example, when NSFor NIH funds me to do research with U-M providing the infrastructure, and I write up that research, I submit it to a journal for publication, if it gets published, then the U-M library will pay the publisher to re-acquire that published research for the U-M community-even though it originated from UM. Essentially we are double paying for the same scientific research, once to perform it and then again to access the results that are behind paywalls. If I didn’t work at U-M, or a similarly highly resourced organization, I would not be able to have free access to the research that was funded by the taxpayers and completed by a faculty member at a state supported institution. Open science also means transparency in science and that can help us rebuild trust in the scientific process and will less likely be victims of misinformation. So this movement is not just for researchers but for all of us.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) already requires any NIH funded project to publish through their own publication portal, PubMed, so that research funded by NIH can be more easily accessed. 

Q: How are we doing at U-M and at MIDAS to promote open and reproducible science?

Pam: U-M has been preparing for these changes, and is in a good position to be proactive. We are unique among universities as we are already known for organizations like ICPSR, which give us the infrastructure to house large amounts of data and allow easy access. MIDAS has been very involved in helping lay the foundation, infrastructure, and understanding of what the changes to open science will mean and how U-M can transition into it. It is a leader among data science institutes to push for open and reproducible science, as we can see in all the work it has done across campus and its collaboration with other campus research organizations, including the instrumental role it has played in helping ICPSR secure major funding for open science. 

Q: Are there other connections between what you have done at MIDAS and your NSF role?

Pam: Yes. NSF is a big proponent of interdisciplinary research, and what I will bring to the table is my data science background and my experience, as the MIDAS Associate Director representing the social sciences, connecting data scientists and computer scientists with social science research. NSF finds my multifaceted background really beneficial in helping to integrate data science and computer science into social science research, and help ensure that the disciplines will work together as equal partners.

Read the Story