Charting the Constellation of Science Reform

I defended my doctoral dissertation, Charting the Constellation of Science Reform on August 25th, 2022. Below is a summary of the dissertation, and here is a a link to a preprint of the document (license: CC-BY 4.0).

Events in the years 2011 and 2012 laid the foundation of what would be a social movement in science. It began with problems surrounding the study and reporting of psychological phenomena, shocking fraud cases involving data fabrication, and reports about the surprisingly high estimates of prevalence of scientific misconduct. Concerns over research integrity, validity and reliability rippled outward, affecting much of the scientific community; a chain reaction which set in motion what is now known as the scientific reform movement.

This movement aims to improve science. It aims to improve methods, its statistics, theory-development, reporting practices, the academic publication system, and inclusivity in the scientific community. To reach these goals, people and organizations within the movement focus on raising awareness of problems, provide education and support with the adoption of reform philosophies and practices, and work to establish new research infrastructures to underpin the greater transparency and diversity that the movement has started to foster.

Though the reform movement and its goals seem admirable and promising, it is nevertheless a group of people, with all the associated inevitable interpersonal challenges of collective action. Bullying and us-versus-them mentalities, along with the heterogeneity the reform movement has inherited from its parent system, academia, act in a complex confluence. The tensions and discontent they cause have led to cracks within the whole, dispersing and fracturing the collective and perhaps even diluting its progress.

In this dissertation, I report on research I conducted on this group of people. Questions about the community’s culture and structure were my drive. I wanted to know what kinds of people the community was comprised of, and what kind of topics and practices they prioritized in the pursuit of their common goal. How do they treat issues of membership and identity in the context of their shared goals, and how are problematic actors handled? How does the group use the platform Twitter to participate in their activities as a community? What is the community’s overall structure? Is it a cohesive whole, or is it more complex?

I use a mixture of methods to explore these questions, and to interpret my findings. Ethnographic methods lent a richness and complexity to my description of the reform constellation, while a social network perspective allowed me to glean a sense of the group’s possibly modular structure from a quantitative angle.

A community of practice (CoP) is a group who share a common goal or concern, and who unite as a community to fulfil that aim. In this dissertation, I apply Etienne Wenger’s CoP concept to the science reform group. I consider how the group negotiate identity and meaning, and how they draw together to fulfil their joint enterprise of science reform.

I consider the related concept of a constellation of CoPs, and I argue that although the people driving science reform canfruitfully be considered a CoP, it might be more useful to consider them as a constellation of communities of practice. A constellation structure, where multiple sub-groups exist within the broader reform community, accounts for the plurality of the reform group identity: It accommodates the differences in tools, priorities, modi operandi, and engagement rules and expectations between clusters that exist, but it also accommodates the clear overarching goal of scientific improvement which is undoubtedly at the heart of each sub-CoP.