“We shouldn’t tell people to do whatever their moms tell them to do”

Kevin Esterling, Perspective from Political Science (II)

This is the fifth post of a video series in which we ask leading social science academics and experts to discuss research transparency in their discipline. The interview was recorded on December 13, 2013 at the University of California, Berkeley.

Full Transcript:

I’m Kevin Esterling. I’m Professor of Political Science at UC Riverside. I’m very interested in methods for the design and analysis of field experimental data, which are particularly interesting because they have a lot of properties. I’m actually very interested in this new movement towards transparency because I think it’s going to help me do my own research better – thinking through it better on the front end. Doing field experiments is very complicated, because when you get out in the real world there is a lot of complications in how you design a study. I think this is going to help me think through that design better at the front end, when I know that I’m going to be accountable for what I say on the back end.

How did you become involved with the transparency movement?

I was having a phone conversation with Ted Miguel just over a year ago. I don’t know why we were talking, but we were. Ted had this idea to do this conference, as we were talking through these issues. I thought it was intriguing. Ted has it’s very infectious kind of personality. He said “Come on Kevin, let’s do it. This will be fun!” And it has turned out to be more than fun. It’s fun to talk about transparency issues because it can be contentious, in terms of how the kind of practices you recommend or norms you talk about can affect people’s work. That can create a lot of contention and debate, but that’s an important debate to have. I’m attracted to that because they are a lot of unresolved issues that matter very much for our disciplines, which we really need to think trough. Having a group like at the meeting we had last year, and the network that we have put together is a really good group of people to talk about these things and think through these issues.

What do you like most being part of the BITSS network?

What I get out of attending these meetings is that it makes my own research better. I think I learn a lot by hearing other people’s talks. What is nice about talking about transparency is that it’s asking us to hold ourselves to very high standards for the quality of research that we do and the methods that we use. I want to hold myself to those standards. I have that identity of myself that I can be that kind of researcher. That’s actually a big thing that I get out of attending BITSS meetings.

What would be the most exciting direction for BITSS to head in?

BITSS is pretty well institutionalized. It’s an ongoing thing now and it’s just a great group of people who are very smart and very engaged and interested in this topic. But there are a certain number of issues that we need to seriously engage. There are concerns from people in the disciplines. BITSS is a good group of people to think about how to talk about these new practices and norms in a way that would be attractive to people in our disciplines. So that we’re not just telling people they need to eat their vegetables and put sunscreen on – or whatever it is that people’s moms tell them to do. We really need to talk about transparency in a way that makes people want to do it. That is probably the next step where I hope to see us try to work on over the next year.