Surrey Reproducibility Society Open Research Conference 2022: Perspectives from an Open Research Novice

Sarah Jones from the CoGDeV lab attended this year’s Surrey Reproducibility Society Open Research Conference which took place on the 30th May, and has written a blog about her experience below. 

On 30th May, I went to the Surrey Reproducibility Society Open Research Conference 2022: “Making Open Research Truly Open”. The topic of the conference was new to me as I didn’t know much about open science beforehand, let alone attend a conference about it! The conference opened with a talk hosted by members of the SRS committee featuring a keynote speaker, after which the room was opened up for a workshop, and finally we attended a resource bar, where academics held discussions about their areas of expertise relating to open research. Overall, it was a really amazing event and I left the conference with about ten times more knowledge of open research than I had before attending, and with a new passion for ethical research.

As the conference was hosted by the SRS, they opened with a brief history of the SRS and their aims to educate about and improve open research. They then introduced the keynote speaker: Dr Samuel Westwood, a Cognitive Neuroscientist at the University of Westminster, and the founder of the RIOT club, another organisation similarly devoted to open science. He talked about the replication crisis, which was more concerning than I’d realised, and explained how this situation has arisen, i.e. the way academia is currently structured, whereby the system rewards poor research practices that lead to replication and reproducibility issues. This manifests in the form of poor work-life balance, a grant-focused attitude and a focus on quantity over quality of publications and citations. These structural issues are built upon a foundation of the “publish or perish” culture that runs rampant within academia. Dr Westwood spoke about the “four horses of the reproducibility apocalypse”: low statistical power, p-hacking, HARKing (and its counterpart CARKing) and reporting bias. While I knew of them beforehand, I’d never heard them so memorably and succinctly described. 

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as the speaker outlined that this is a problem that can be solved, and the solution is open research. Preprints, reproducible workflows, pre-registration, registered reports and fully open access data can all help mitigate the problem. These are beneficial not only to research as a domain, but also at an individual level, in the form of work continuity, increased citations and guaranteed publication. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interest to deliberately reward “best practice” through hiring, funding and publishing decisions that prioritise open research, as well as teaching about open research to future generations of academics. 

Following this talk, Prof Monique Raats led a workshop on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in open research. The five core values of open science (Quality and Integrity, Collective Benefit, Equity and Fairness, Diversity and Inclusiveness) were positioned around the room, each with its own whiteboard, and the attendees were encouraged to add post-it notes to the boards with ideas of how to improve in these areas, either within the university or in research as a whole. Everyone got involved and by the end every board was overflowing. We then adjourned for a short complimentary lunch, after which we separated into groups around each board, and in teams, grouped the post-it notes by theme. We then presented these ideas to the rest of the room. This really helped to put everyone into the mindset of how to move forward in open science, rather than just settle with where we are, and really hammered home the fact that it’s an ongoing journey and that plenty of work still needs to be done before academia is where we would like it to be. It was definitely a deeply eye-opening experience, while still retaining a sense of fun. 

Still buzzing from the workshop, we continued into a resource bar, with various academics gathered at tables around the room, open to discussion and questions. I got the chance to visit several of these tables: reproducibility, RENCap, open access, pre-registration, data management, registered reports and open materials and data. I visited as many as possible during the allotted time, but I admit some of the discussions were so interesting that I lost track of time!

Overall, the experience was immensely useful and eye-opening to me, both in terms of what I learned about open research and the opportunity to discuss it with academics who were so well-versed in their areas of expertise. I gained so much knowledge about research, both the positive aspects and the challenges, but I also learned that ultimately everyone involved is so passionate about what they do, and about bringing their work to the public in the most ethical way they can.

By Sarah Jones