Thursday, January 2, 2020

No More “Free Work” for Scientific Societies That Do Not Share My Values

Time is precious, so of course I have to be judicious about when and for whom I do “free work,” i.e. uncompensated activities that fall outside my specific job duties. I have historically devoted my free work time to advance two major goals: 1) enhancing the diversity of researchers and research topics in psychological science and 2) promoting open, transparent, and reproducible science. I have done this because diversity and open science are the two most central scientific values I hold.

The majority of my free work comes about in the context of professional societies. I have been very intentional about the societies with which I associate, choosing only ones that I feel align with my personal and scientific values. For example, I have long shunned the American Psychological Association (APA) because of their involvement with the U.S. Government’s detainee torture program, their aggressive issuing of take-down notices for researchers posting APA-published articles, and the myriad ways in which they unethically treat students (e.g., not allowing them voting rights, the structure of accredited programs that requires off-site internships), among many other reasons. I also have not been a member of the largest organization in my subfield, the Society for Research on Child Development (SRCD), for nearly 10 years. My move away from SRCD was initially because I did not perceive them to value diversity in the field, and was subsequently reinforced by their tepid response to the detention and treatment of migrant children in the U.S. and their explicitly antagonistic views on open science. I am frequently asked to serve on committees or work on projects for both APA and SRCD, despite not being members of either, and always decline while providing the explanation that the societies do not share my values. I will not engage in free work for these societies.

This is all a long preface to say that I will no longer do any free work for the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA), a society for which I have been an extremely active member since joining in 2003. I have been to every meeting since 2004, have served on committees, chaired review panels, given countless presentations, and met many great friends and colleagues through the society. I owe much of my professional existence to SRA, which is why I felt such betrayal at their recent actions.

SRA, along with a number of societies and publishers (including APA and SRCD) signed on to this letter to the U.S. President urging him to delay executive action on open access of journal articles. Now, whether or not the President should take this action is not the core issue—I understand that this is a complex issue. But, signing on to this particular letter is inexcusable for a society like SRA. The letter is essentially publisher propaganda, containing mischaracterizations about the nature of intellectual property and the role of journals in the scientific process. Moreover, it is deeply nationalistic, prioritizing the benefits to the U.S. at the expenses of the rest of the world. This latter point should have been a deal breaker for any society that positions itself as valuing global science. The letter is a direct attack on two of my core values: diversity and open science.

I have communicated with several people about this issue, and they almost all give versions of the same two responses:

1) The issue is complicated, decisions about this kind of action have to be made quickly, and societies always have to balance multiple interests. I agree with all of this, but also maintain that SRA should not have signed that letter. It should have been an easy call to read the text of the letter and give a clear, not today Satan response. And there were options. There is another letter that, while I still disagree with the content, is much less offensive (SRA did not sign that one; APA did).

2) This demonstrates the need for me to stay involved in the society, work with them, and help educate and promote open science and diversity. I agree with all of this as well, but have chosen a different path. Time is precious, and I have to make sound decisions on how to allocate it. SRA is a society structured by the past, and is a society that is reluctant to change at the structural level, despite any veneers of change. I have decided that is a better use of my time to support new models for scientific exchange rather than try to change old, entrenched models. I was always baffled by colleagues who would say, “I don’t really like SRCD, but I just go because everyone else does and I like to see my friends.” This is not why societies or conferences should exist. We should do more and expect more, of societies and of our time. At SRA 2020 I was scheduled to run a preconference on open science and was a chair for an invited session on open science. I am withdrawing from both and will not attend SRA, devoting my energies to initiatives and organizations that I fully believe in.

Finally, I am not claiming to be a pure, virtuous actor on this topic. There are other initiatives to which I am devoting free work that might seem counter to my previous statements. There are always reasons, but those reasons do not violate my core values. Similarly, I will not judge those of you who decide to stay with SRA, which will likely be all of you. I just ask that you work to actually change and improve the way the society functions, rather than reinforce the status quo.