Flexibility on Research Transparency

Political science leaders endorse idea that journals may adopt different approaches on release of data.

May 3, 2018
 

In 2014, 27 political science journal editors signed on to new Data Access and Research Transparency (DA-RT) guidelines promoting openness in academic research. The guidelines would require authors to make available much more of the raw data and methodologies used to analyze the data than would typically appear in many journal articles. Many applauded the idea as a way to encourage efforts to replicate or challenge research findings -- and to build confidence in the research process in political science.

But at the same time, many political scientists expressed a variety of concerns about the new approach -- and called for a delay in adopting the new standards.

This week, the president and president-elect of the American Political Science Association issued a joint statement in which they reiterated their support for the idea of increased transparency. But they also said they shared concerns that have been raised about the DA-RT guidelines, and endorsed the idea that different political science journals and different subgroups within political science may adopt different approaches on the issue.

The leaders stressed in their statement that they were expressing their own views and not those of the association or its journals.

The statement was issued at the request of a petition from the Women's Caucus of the APSA. That petition featured numerous concerns about the DA-RT guidelines.

"Those concerns center on the privacy of human subjects and the ethics of disclosing data obtained from human subjects; whether certain forms of qualitative research can ever be replicable; and whether scholars can 'fairly' (ethically, practically, epistemologically) be asked to share data sets, thereby waiving their right of first use and challenging their human subjects protection duties," the petition says. "The sharing of original data sets is a particular concern for junior scholars and scholars at institutions where the teaching load precludes high research output. Altogether, DA-RT burdens qualitative researchers as well as researchers at underresourced institutions, and the vast majority of researchers in both groups are women and scholars of color."

The petition adds that "topics of particular interest to women scholars -- such as domestic abuse, human trafficking, abortion and maternal health -- will become more difficult to pursue under DA-RT. This is particularly disturbing [because of] ethical issues concerning, above all, protection of human subjects."

The response from the APSA leaders suggests that the new standards need not apply across the board.

"For those communities where a consensus on data sharing or transparency standards exists, journals can certainly accommodate that consensus (as they do, for example, for certain types of quantitative analysis)," the letter says. "However, where such consensus does not yet exist, we believe that openness to a variety of approaches to transparency will prove most helpful in cultivating the rich diversity of rigorous, productive research traditions that together define our association."

The letter was signed by the current APSA president, Kathleen Thelen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the president-elect, Rogers Smith of the University of Pennsylvania.

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