Negotiating open science : structuring scientific integrity and legitimacy through persuasive infrastructure

Cohoon, Johanna
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The open science movement promotes use of digital technology to increase the efficiency, inclusivity, and quality of scientific research. Developers of these platforms often advocate for open science on the grounds that it is in keeping with scientific values, specifically referencing Mertonian norms. However, many scientists are agnostic toward open science; as policies and technology enforce the movement’s aims of sharing openly, they seek to protect the research they view as their own. This dissertation work studies the enactment of open science by a variety of stakeholders in the Open Science Framework (OSF)—its developers, its users, and also its non-users.

Through remote interviews; trace data and document collection; and observation of these various populations I examine the enactment of open science. In approaching this work, I adopt a theoretical framework built on structuration theory and technologies-in-practice. This framework encourages the researcher to consider how human agents draw on their material and social contexts to affect change. By taking the open science platform OSF not as a given, but as a technology whose purpose and effects are affected by the constraints and resources of its stakeholders, I explore how developers’, users’, and non-users’ behavior is contextually structured.

I generate a grounded theory of the enactment of open science via persuasive technology. I do so by iteratively collecting and analyzing data to produce an abstract, conceptual account of the studied phenomenon. My results show that open science infrastructure (OSI) developers are primarily concerned with the structuration of scientific integrity while OSI users are concerned with establishing their own scholarly legitimacy. Party to these activities are other structural influences on OSI stakeholder behavior that both complicate and facilitate their actions. This analysis revealed that OSI developers align their technology to meet user needs, often leveraging data to strategically inform design. However, using the case of preregistration on OSF, I show these data sometimes do not accurately represent the use of OSI. In my discussion I note what this data shadow might mean for researchers and OSI developers.

The results of this dissertation have further implications for science policy and open systems. Drawing on my grounded theory, I show that sustainability plans for OSI conflict with researchers’ primary activity of establishing scientific legitimacy. I relate this tension to the undervaluing of software work in science and suggest it shows an undue limitation in our current conceptualization of universalism, a Mertonian norm. Furthermore, I discuss the possible future of OSI as a tool for lay-people. By leveraging the insights of my grounded theory, I argue that ongoing issues with distinguishing spam from legitimate content on OSI demonstrate the need to assist lay-people with their evaluation of open science materials. Finally, I discuss how these conclusions signal that future research should focus more on who can affect OSI.