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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring/Summer 2013
A Personal and Journalistic Evaluation
With Dr. Brian Nosek

Bradley Cannon, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

What if you don’t know yourself 
as well as you think? Dr. Brian Nosek cofounded and directs Project Implicit (http://projectimplicit.net/) an Internet-based, multi-university collaboration of research and education about implicit cognition. Project Implicit 
is used to alert people of the difference between trained beliefs and implicit feelings that exist outside of awareness or control. Similarly, Nosek cofounded the Center for Open Science that operates
the Open Science Framework (http://openscienceframework.org/) to help researchers archive data, as well as to develop infrastructure and create processes that maximize the consistency between scientific values and scientific practices. Today, Nosek also explains how the system of academic publication can be improved.

How did you become interested 
in the study of psychology?

I was a computer engineering major until my fourth undergraduate year when I started taking psychology classes as a break from the "real” classes. Accordingly, my engineering grades declined because I wanted to spend all my time on the psych courses. I found them so interesting that the possibility of conducting science on human behavior inspired me. I thought it was the coolest thing I could do, so I jumped right in.

Who is your mentor?
I have a few. As an undergraduate, my primary mentor was Shawn Burn at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. As a graduate student, my primary advisor was Mahzarin Banaji, and her advisor, Tony Greenwald, was
my secondary advisor. These people gave me every opportunity to be a successful academic, and it’s hard to imagine what my life would be like had I not stumbled into their labs to take part in the type of work they were doing.

What has been the most beneficial project that you have taken part in?

I’ve felt very fortunate to be involved in a
 lot of projects. Of the two that stand out is the overall Project Implicit research, which involves trying to understand how people have thoughts and feelings outside of their conscious awareness and control that are different from their conscious beliefs, and how that influences their behavior. That has been a very exciting project, not just because it’s interesting, but also because we’ve been able to engage in a more public discussion about the questions raised and how we study people’s minds outside of their awareness or control.

Another important project is the Reproducibility Project, which is a collaboration of more than 100 scientists who have come together almost spontaneously
to estimate the reproducibility of published findings in psychological science. Two parts of that have been quite exciting to me. One is the obvious importance of understanding the reproducibility of our science and what implications this might have for improving scientific practices. The other is that Reproducibility consists of people who really care about working together to question our field without a whole lot of individual reward. Mostly people are donating their time and providing a service to the field by conducting parts of the research of this very large, group project.

How is Project Implicit used
 to benefit society?
I think the main benefit of doing the Implicit tests is an opportunity for self-awareness. We operate in our lives as if we are objective thinkers and as if our intentions drive our behavior. But now there’s a strong literature suggesting that this is sometimes, but not always, true. Just the experience of taking the Implicit Association Tests, is a way to gain insight about parts of our minds that we may not know we have. I think that is an interesting implication of a basic research enterprise because we are trying to use 
the tests to figure out what’s going on in people’s mind and this simultaneously gives people an awareness of those things in their minds too. In my mind, it’s a very nice dual contribution that our basic research can also inform and educate.

Why should Psi Chi members use the
 Open Science Framework?

The Open Science Framework is a web-based software designed to help researchers document and archive their research materials and data, share that data within their collaborative teams, make their research publically available (if they so choose), and also register their study designs, analyses plans, or hypotheses. It’s a tool to help researchers do their studies more efficiently and make sure they always have access to their materials in the future. After all, it is so easy to lose our things. One of the challenges to reproducibility is the fact that people occasionally email me and say "can 
I have the research you did for this study
 6 years ago? I think it was really interesting and I would like to extend it.” However, I often just can’t find it. The Open Science Framework tries to solve some of those very basic problems to make sure we don’t lose any of the things that we’ve done and to make research more available for others to replicate and extend.

How does creating a more openly accessed world help to bring the revenue stream to the beginning of the publication process?
The main challenge we face with making our published work more accessible is the funding model. If an article is accepted, the authors sign away their rights to the publisher. Then the publisher owns the material and sells it back to authors so that they can read it in the form of university library subscriptions. That’s a very expensive process because publishers reasonably want to make money, and the main way they have leverage to do so is by closing access to the research. Thus, the best available solution— and many are being pursued—is to switch to an open access model where payment is on the authoring side and, once published, everyone can access the scientific research. For example, a new journal called PeerJ (http://peerj.com/) is experimenting with a very low priced Open Access publishing model. If we can move to Open Access, universities can cancel their very expensive subscriptions and instead devote those resources, in fact just a fraction of those resources, to funding their scientists’ Open Access publishing. Then everybody has access to the materials, and we save money in the process. However, this is a very big challenge because many stakeholders like the model as it is.

Are traditional journals open to publishing articles that critique their own processes?
Usually, but that’s because the academic editors are independent of the publishers. We published an article in Psychological Inquiry about how we could better the publication system by moving to Open Access, and that article is actually in a standard journal that has closed access. However, it’s less of an issue about where the articles critiquing the process are published, and more of an issue of the political and social aspects of getting publishers to actually shift their publishing model. Even more importantly, how do we get scientists to care about these issues, because our universities pay for these subscriptions, and in our daily lives as scientists, so we don’t see the costs directly. We’re just happy that journals accept our papers when we submit them. We don’t see that the budgets in our libraries are totally overwhelmed with trying to keep access to all of these scientific articles. We don’t think about any other parts of the ecosystem, so that’s where some additional education is needed. Scientists need to know how the system works and what alternatives are available.

What is PsychFileDrawer and 
how is it different?
PsychFileDrawer is another initiative to open the research process. Whereas the Open Science Framework tries to open the entire workflow from the conception of ideas to the publication of results, PsychFileDrawer takes on a specific problem that—many of us do research that is never published. For example, maybe we tried to reproduce a result we got excited by in another lab, but we didn’t do it successfully. Then, because there wasn’t any real outlet for those kinds of failed applications in the traditional publishing model, we stuck that research in our file drawers instead of sharing it with the world. PsychFileDrawer tries to solve that piece of the problem, so it’s a nice complement to what the Open Science Framework does.

How have these programs expanded or changed to fit the needs of their users?
PsychFileDrawer has gotten some attention—not heavy use yet, but certainly people care about the issues. I think everyone is looking for useful solutions for how they can improve their own practices and confidence in research results. Right now, our focus is in expanding functionality to help people use it and make interesting insights. We want to provide a service that researchers can use in order to improve the collaboration and communication of their scientific research.

We’re also in a big growth phase for
the Open Science Framework because we just got funding for the Center for Open Science (http://centerforopenscience.org/) and just signed a lease for office space in Charlottesville, Virginia. We are hiring staff now to make the framework more useful for researchers. We also have lots 
of features in development. For example, instead of having to log into the Open Science Framework to post materials, we want to add some functionality so that users can have a folder on their desktop, just like a Dropbox folder. That way, anything they put in will update the files in that folder to the website, plus this will create an archive workflow integrated with how people do their research.

If students are interested in your area of psychology, what classes would prepare them for this role?
Obviously, students can take traditional psych courses, but I find it quite valuable to also have experiences outside of psychology. For my particular area of research, I have gotten the most benefit in taking a number of classes across the natural and life sciences—such as physics, chemistry, and biology—to have a working knowledge of the fundamental issues and approaches in those fields. I also took a lot of engineering, computing, and statistical courses, which really changed my understanding of what is possible. That training has given me opportunities in our lab to do innovative things that are not so difficult with some grounding in technology.

What can we expect to see 
from you in the future?

In the near future, the Center for Open Science will be pushing out a lot of 
new resources. These include grants for doing replications of important projects, fleshing out of the infrastructure itself,
and developing new innovative practices
 to provide more tools and resources for psychological science, and more broadly for science as a whole, to make our scientific work stronger and more efficient.


Dr. Brian Nosek received a PhD from Yale University in 2002 and is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia. In 2007, he received early career awards from the International Social Cognition Network (ISCON) and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI). Nosek investigates the gap between values and practices—such as when behavior is influenced by factors other than one’s intentions and goals. Research applications of this interest are implicit bias, diversity and inclusion, automaticity, social judgment and decision-making, attitudes, beliefs, ideology, morality, identity, memory, and barriers to innovation. Through lectures, training, and consulting, Nosek and Project Implicit apply scientific research to improve the alignment between personal and organizational values and practices.

Copyright 1996 (Volume 1, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

 

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