Negotiating Open Science

My Dissertation
"I don't know, if I kept updating the same file over and over again, what message that would convey to people, you know. In the sense that maybe people...may not be as clear as how an analysis code actually happens, and how many mistakes we make, and how we can discover two weeks later that something was wrong in the linear regression because of a small mistake that you did with the code and you have to go back at it."

- interview with User 5

"...We are not moderating the content. It is intended to be openly accessed. It is up to users whether or not they want to leverage and use that content."

- interview with open science infrastructure Developer 3

I conducted a qualitative study of the enactment of open science, exploring how different stakeholders in one open science platform, the Open Science Framework (OSF) approach the movement and the technology. Drawing on Giddens's structuration theory and Orlikowski's technologies-in-practice, I approached this work by considering an online platform for open science not as a static tool proffered by its developers, but as a dynamic product of many stakeholders' efforts to enact their scientific goals.

Many open science advocates seek to increase open behaviors by designing research tools with openness in mind. Prior research demonstrates that designing for behavior change can be successful, but it opens the door to conflict among stakeholders and the technology. Many researchers express agnosticism toward open science, citing concerns more pressing than the set of Mertonian norms that open science advocates suggest should be guiding research practice. Given that billions are invested in scientific research each year and that scientists stake their careers on being perceived as credible sources of information, it is important to understand how this change in science toward openness is produced and received. I positioned the OSF platform as a site for stakeholders to negotiate open science practice and used semi-structured interviews, observation and trace data analysis to study this negotiation.

Through grounded theory analysis I found that open science infrastructure developers use design strategies like tunneling to shape user behavior, seeking to establish specific meanings for certain open science practices like preregistration. However, regardless of their endorsement of the open movement, researchers' open science practices are often constrained by peers and their concept of legitimacy. Furthermore, researchers prefer to "draw the curtain" around any peculiarities in their work to protect their reputation—this limits their engagement in open science.

Another major theme in my results were the challenges for open science in future. I observed OSF developers battling with spam on the platform and beginning to try and establish an open source developer community as means to sustain their infrastructure work long-term. These scenarios showed that as open science platforms grow in popularity they will face commensurate growth in issues of disinformation and trustworthiness as well as sustainability. Challenges ahead lie in 1) deciding how and by whom open science content should be validated and 2) creating career opportunities for those interested in open source open science infrastructure development.

I am presently drafting and submitting publications based on my dissertation research. Some anonymized transcripts have been shared at the request of my interviewees. A methodological case study from my experience with theoretical sampling has been accepted at CHI23 and I will present results at 4S 2023 as well. In future, I look forward to further studying who engages in open science infrastructure development given its lack of reputational rewards in academia. I also hope to do additional user research and design studies to understand how the trustworthiness of open science artifacts can be communicated to professional and lay audiences as well as AI.

An excerpt (p. 234):

Researchers and developers are concerned with establishing legitimacy because projecting legitimacy is how they sustain their core pursuits. Researchers, for example, must maintain legitimacy or risk being perceived as doing “alchemy” (U13 interview). OSF developers must maintain the legitimacy of their work as well—if the platform is perceived as illegitimate, its usership will suffer. N9 [nonuser 9], for instance, explained their reticence to adopt OSI like OSF during an interview. N9 perceived platforms like ResearchGate and Academia.edu to be “having the same idea” as OSF and was suspect of the lot:

"[P]eople run into issues because those publishing companies start suing people, right? With like, ‘You don't own that. You're the author, you don't own the copyright. You can't put the paper there.’ … Or I will read, I received a lot of, I don't know what, spam or like a new platform or it's called Academia.com, or whatever. There's so many of those out there right now. You don't know what they're doing."

N9 told me they had actually used ResearchGate “at the beginning a lot,” but lawsuits begged questions of legitimacy, turning N9 off the tool and prompting them to “start sharing my paper[s] in private” (N9 interview). The unsolicited emails N9 received from other platforms like Academia.edu furthered N9’s concept of manuscript sharing as something to be wary of—beyond being illegal, it might be part a predatory scheme. “And so, it's hard for me to know how useful they are or what are they doing. And I always have some concerns there, you know. So I don't really use them; I still use my old ways to find stuff,” N9 told me. They structured their OSI choices in part around the legitimacy those technologies projected.

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School of Computing, University of Utah: MEB 4154