What if you don’t know
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
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
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
Another important project is the Reproducibility Project, which is a collaboration
of more than 100 scientists who have come together almost spontaneously
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
to benefit society?
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
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
Why should Psi Chi members
Open Science Framework?
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
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
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?
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
how is it different?
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?
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?
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
you in the future?
near future, the Center for Open Science will be pushing out a lot of
resources. These include grants for doing replications of important projects,
fleshing out of the infrastructure itself,
and developing new innovative
to provide more tools and resources for psychological science, and
more broadly for science as a whole, to make our scientific work stronger and