Fieldnotes from Ghana

I am currently in Accra, Ghana for a cultural psychology project organised by the University of Amsterdam in cooperation with the University of Ghana at Legon. As part of the trip, I have been doing some data collection for the Ghana part of a large cross-cultural study on perceptions of power and leadership (run by Eftychia Stamkou of UvA). Here’s three things I learned from collecting data for a survey experiment:

  • Participant recruitment is easy (at least sometimes): for our study, we recruited university students at the Legon campus of the University of Ghana. Much to my surprise, recruiting participants for an (unpaid) 20 minute survey was very easy: when we knocked on doors in the university dorms, most residents were happy to participate in our survey. (In contrast, a group recruiting teachers for an hour-long study had a much harder time to find willing participants).
  • Asking about age can be sensitive: in discussing our questionnaire with our Ghanaian collaborators, we were told that questions about the participant’s age can pose some problems. For example, there is a perceived threshold marriage age – 25 years – and participants may feel uncomfortable with indicating that they are older than that (although we did not ask about marital status). We resorted to providing participants with the opportunity to indicate an age range instead; and participants appeared to be happy with that.
  • Likert scales are not always intuitive: one of the most common survey response formats in psychological research are Likert scales, often times with five or seven points. Many of our participants seem to have used our seven-point scales as three-point scales however, with most or all answers on the options one, four, and seven. In a place where many participants may be unfamiliar with Likert scales, using a three-point scale (or binary measure with ‘don’t know’ option) may be preferable.

Overall, my experience collecting data here in Accra has been quite positive – it certainly went much faster than expected. I suspect that collecting more representative data, or in more rural locations, will be more difficult; but that’s for some future experience. So far, I’ve learned some very useful things about doing research here, and about the research done here – more on that in my next post.

The Future Is Already Here

This is a crosspost from the Good Science, Bad Science blog, where I am writing these days as part of a course I am taking at the University of Amsterdam.

Attending the seminar on Improving Scientific Practice at the University of Amsterdam last week, I was more than once reminded of the quip by William Gibson (of Neuromancer fame) that “the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed”. It’s a quote that gets thrown around a lot in the hacker circles I used to frequent, but I believe that it’s just as true for science communication.

At one point, Kees Schuyt – a sociologist of law who has been a professor for more than four decades – lamented the lack of post-publication peer review today: in earlier days, a prominent article would have been followed by four, five responses in the journal over the next few issues; but today, he said, he hardly sees this.

Schuyt’s comment is interesting to me not just because it gives an insight into the scientific practices of yore, but also because I see post-publication peer review all around me, everyday. It’s not called that, of course, but scientists, students, and journalists discuss and critique the research of others all the time on blogs and Twitter (see my introduction to using Twitter in the pursuit of good science). Such networked communications technologies are almost perfectly suited to support the scientific discourse – and we are by far not using their full potential.

The Networked Public Sphere

One of the slogans of new media advocates is “we are the media”. Indeed, the strength of blogs lies in the fact that anybody, anywhere, can run one. Seeing the difficulty Nick Brown (another attendee of last week’s seminar) and his collaborators have had in getting their criticism of Barbara Fredrickson’s “positivity ratio” nonsense math published by the original journal, barrier-free access to publishing is an asset to good science.

Yet, a researcher like Prof. Schuyt, reading the journal online or, even more removed, on paper, would never have known about criticism published on a blog. Here, traditional journals lack an interface with other media. The technology to connect original publications and responses already exists: blogs know a so-called “pingback”, which notifies the owner of a link to a specific blog post. Because pingbacks are posted as comments under the article, they are also visible to other readers: they weave a network between articles and responses.

Comment sections, too, are still uncommon in scientific journals, despite their obvious potential for post-publication peer review. Instead, readers wanting to critique a paper have to turn to services like PubPeer – which now offers a browser extension to display comments on publishers’ websites: a user-based work-around where journals have been too slow to adapt.

PLoS One displays tweets containing the article link next to the web version of the paper.
PLoS One displays tweets containing the article link next to the web version of the paper.

Linking papers, blog posts, and comments to each other in such a way is important, in particular for the reader who encounters them later – and we hope our publications to be relevant for years, even decades to come. But in the present moment, the best way to link them is often Twitter: the service allows for real-time discourse linking content across platforms. In its ephemeral nature, Twitter thus complements the more slow-moving debate based on, first, longer blog posts and, finally, responses in journals and review articles.

Making Discourse Visible

If you believe that post-publication peer review is the future, this future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed. The tools I have mentioned – blogs with pingbacks, comments, and Twitter integration – already exist, but as of yet, they are used by a technophile few, hardly integrated with scientific publication outlets, and often invisible to the uninitiated.

Integrating official publications with networked media is a particular opportunity for open access journals. Some of them already do: PLoS, for example, allows comments and displays relevant tweets. Other, in particular closed access, publications make it difficult to discuss, review, and correct the scientific record as they lack these features. To integrate these outlets into the discursive network of post-publication peer review will be to evenly distribute the future that’s already here.

Using Twitter to Explore the Frontiers of Psychological Research

This is a crosspost from the Good Science, Bad Science blog, where I am writing these days as part of a course I am taking at the University of Amsterdam.

Twitter is a great tool to keep up with developments in psychological research good and bad. In this post, I will make a case for using Twitter as a student or researcher. For those yet uninitiated, I will give a simple and easy-to-follow introduction on how the platform works and how to use it. Finally, I will recommend a few advocates of good science to follow on Twitter. All in all, this should enable you to dive right into the debates on post-publication peer review and pre-registered replication reports (and all the other things that make good science).

Why Use Twitter?

Some social media platform – notably Facebook – have been characterised in the literature as ‘semi-public spheres’. The public sphere, of course, was developed as a concept by social theorist Jürgen Habermas, who evoked the coffeehouses of yore as places in which the public could meet in free and non-violent discourse. In the evening, after work is done (the wonderful German word Feierabend unfortunately does not have an adequate English translation), the citizens would come together and discuss the urgent and not-so-urgent matters concerning their community. Twitter, in a sense, is a hyper-public sphere: it is a place not only to meet with friends and acquaintances; but also one in which it is perfectly acceptable to eavesdrop on and even butt into the conversations of others.

Such low barriers to entering a conversation are particularly great when you are a student. Not only do many conversations normally take place behind doors that are, for you, still closed; you will surely feel uncomfortable butting into a chat between your intellectual heroes should you find them, say, at a conference (and they might not appreciate it either). On Twitter, social conventions are more relaxed, and the whole platform is designed around the idea that conversations take place in public, and it’s o.k. to listen. And there sure is a lot to listen to! Many, many researchers and advocates use Twitter, and have meaningful and interesting conversations between each other. Later in this post, I will show you how to find them.

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And then, of course, there is also the old wisdom that on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog (or a lowly master’s student, for the matter). Yet, Twitter is also a great place to make a name for oneself. If you have something smart to say, it’ll be the content more than who you are that counts; and through its features the platform allows anybody who follows you to quickly share your work with others. What could be better for an evangelist (and let us be honest, all committed researchers, and advocates of good science all the more, are missionaries of their cause)? So, Twitter allows you to connect easily with people all over the world, to follow the conversations of thought leaders in your field, and to quickly get your own work and ideas to those who care.

How to Use Twitter

In this section, I will give an accessible introduction to the platform. If you already know how Twitter works – or feel comfortable with social media in general – you’ll probably want to skip this section. Also, if you don’t trust me, there’s a great Twitter primer by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. All others, here we go!

Although you do not need an account yourself to read content on Twitter, getting one is a great place to start. Not only does it allow you to post tweets yourself; it also enables you to select other users to follow and regularly receive their updates, as well as a few other useful things. Signing up is easy! All you need is an email address and a username you want to go by on Twitter (choose something short and not too cryptic). The site also asks for your full name, but any pseudonym will work. A lot of people do not twitter under their real name! Once you’ve created an account, also upload a profile picture and write a short description so people know what you care about.

Updates on Twitter (‘tweets’) can be up to 140 characters long – being eloquent under these restrictions is a whole art unto itself! So, try to be concise (although it’s customary to split longer messages into multiple tweets. Just indicate that there’s something to follow, e.g. by going 1/2, 2/2). There’s no need to worry about the length of links, though! Twitter has a built-in link-shortener, so all links will be of the same length. Ready to send out a ‘hello world’?

helloworld

Next, you will want to follow some people. Following somebody establishes a one-way link (i.e., they can follow you back, but they do not have to – there is no obligation there): you will see all posts written by that user on your wall (the feed on the home screen). I will recommend a few interesting advocates of good science to follow later, but perhaps you want to go explore on your own first. Twitter offers a host of recommendations, for instance under ‘Who to follow’ and ‘Popular accounts’ on the left-hand side.

Finally, there are three basic, but important features of Twitter. One is the hashtag (although used all over these days, it originated from Twitter): #word. It’s a way of assigning a label to a tweet, and users can search for tweets containing a particular hashtag. A lot of conferences, for instance, have an official hashtag to make it easier to find tweets from participants (go and type ‘#easp2014’ into the search field in the upper right corner – it’s the official hashtag of the conference of the European Association of Social Psychology that was hosted at the UvA over the summer).

Second, there is the retweet option. When you hover over a tweet with your mouse, you will see three option – ‘reply’ (we will get to that), ‘retweet’, and ‘favorite’. When you click on retweet, the post will appear on your wall (and on that of people you follow). It will still be attributed to the original author, but also show that you retweeted it. This is the key feature behind Twitter’s power for spreading ideas – including those linked to in a tweet – at rapid speed and with great reach.

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The last, and most important, feature is the ‘mention’. Prefixing another Twitter user’s handle by an ‘@’ will make that user aware of your message (you can find messages directed at you under ‘Notifications’ in the upper left corner). When you start a tweet with an @ and a handle, this message will only appear on the wall of the person you are addressing and contacts you have in common. So nobody will be bothered by your conversation with somebody they don’t know! When you click on the ‘reply’ button underneath each tweet that I mentioned earlier, it’ll set up an @-message that is linked to the original tweet. What’s so great about that? People can see what you are replying to! When a conversation goes back and forth dozens of times, that can be very handy. Also, clicking on a tweet will show you the thread of tweets it (may have) replied to, and all replies it has received. Go find some reply-tweets and try it out!

Now you should be ready to delve right into Twitter. Perhaps you’ll still want to be a passive reader for a while to see what people are talking about, but first you’ll have to find some interesting people to follow. Let’s go do that in the next section!

Finding Conversations

Who exactly you’ll want to follow on Twitter will depend on your own interests. After all, it’s not just good science advocates on there, but literally people from all walks of life. Here, I’ll just recommend a few people whose conversations about good science I’ve found particularly exciting to follow.

Chris Chamber / @chrisdc77 – cognitive neuroscientist and as editor of Cortex one of the driving forces in establishing pre-registered reports in journals.

Brian Nosek / @BrianNosek – social psychologist and director of the Center for Open Science (@OSFramework). Leader in the replication movement.

Neuroskeptic / @Neuro_Skeptic – anonymous blogger and quite certainly the snarkiest critic of neuroscience on the Internet.

Daniël Lakens / @lakens – experimental psychologist and methodologist at TU Eindhoven; open science advocate.

Erika Salomon / @ecsalomon – social psychology Ph.D. student and blogger, among others for the SPSP blog.

Ben Goldacre / @bengoldacre – Science journalist and author of the bestselling books “Bad Science” and “Bad Pharma”; leader of the AllTrials campaign to require registration and publication of clinical trials.

Ed Yong / @edyong209 – science journalist and blogger for the National Geographic. Seemingly never sleeps, and so while not a psychologist, still engaged in many conversations.

Sanjay Srivastava / @hardsci – personality and social psychologist at the University of Oregon and author of the excellent blog The Hardest Science.

Betsy Levy Paluck / @betsylevyp – Princeton professor of psychology and public policy and an outspoken defender of good research practices.

Rolf Zwaan / @RolfZwaan – psychologist at Erasmus University Rotterdam and prolific blogger.

Uri Simonsohn / @uri_sohn – methodologist and leader of the replication movement; recent inventions include the p-curve as a measure of publication bias. Also author (with his colleague Joe Simmons (@jpsimmons)) of DataColada.

Heather Coates / @landPangurBan – data librarian at Indiana University and research transparency advocate.

Jelte Wicherts / @JelteWicherts – Han’s former Ph.D. student; now methodologist at Tilburg University. Speaker at the ‘Human Factors’ conference!

Kai Jonas / @KaiJJonas – hipster. Also social psychologist at the UvA and editor-in-chief of Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology, a journal based on pre-registration.

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Matt Wall / @m_wall – neuroscientist and occasional author of the rather useful blog Computing for Psychologists.

Simine Vazire / @siminevazire – personality psychologist and regular blogger on good science.

Dorothy Bishop / @deevybee – developmental neuropsychologist and blogger; advocate for replication.

Michael Eisen / @mbeisen – biologist and co-founder of PLoS; open access advocate.

Alex Holcombe / @ceptional – cognitive neuroscientist and advocate of registered replication reports; runs PsychFileDrawer, a platform for sharing replications.

Dale Barr / @dalejbarr – social scientist and methodologist at the University of Glasgow.

… and last but not least:

Lego Academics / @LegoAcademics

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I hope I’ve been able to convince you of the value of Twitter for you as an advocate of good science. If you want to follow me, I’m @simoncolumbus. See you there.