Research articles depict a destination, but not its journey. The journey is the messy middle that not everybody wants to know, but this garden of forking paths has substantial consequences for results. Because information often gets relegated to supplemental materials or is unavailable upon request, we often cannot know the actual research journey even if we wanted to.
The messy middle contains some of the most valuable lessons for research. Reagents that did not interact with compounds as expected, flaws in reasoning that seemed obvious only afterwards, assumptions left unarticulated, irreproducible results in previous work, tacit knowledge that is not obvious and non-trivial if missed.
Our research journeys are still relatively solitary, even in the interconnected age of the Web. This makes the messy middle more obscure than it has to. How often do we interact with people outside our direct peers in our projects? How often do we collaborate with people outside our field and learn from one another? How often do we invite radically different perspectives for fresh insights? To a certain extent we do, but not nearly as much as we would like. The hurdles are too high.
What could happen if we were without disciplinary bounds and could collaborate as we meet in our research journeys?
That is why we’re starting the Many Paths project: To unearth the messy middle and have researchers meet without disciplinary bounds. We learned a lot from our respective research journeys, and we would not be the same researchers without them. We met as statisticians, psychologists, meta-researchers, and organisation scientists and learned from each other. We are hungry to facilitate more of these interactions with more researchers from more fields. We are curious to see what comes of messy research journeys, requiring U-turns, and where we collaborate in near real time. By publishing only the end results of our solitary journeys in research articles, we are erasing the work and the learnings from the record.
Taking inspiration from large research collaborations, the Many Paths project sets out to investigate one research question with researchers from various fields, document the journeys taken and the paths forsaken, to better understand the research process.
Many Paths invites researchers who've published on power and corruption from all fields to theorise, analyse, and study the research question "Does power corrupt?" This includes political scientists interacting with philosophy scholars interacting with organisation scientists, to figure out how we could begin to answer this age old question when combining current day knowledge across disciplines.
We count on the journey being messy, and it will be documented step by step with Hypergraph. Its as-you-go documentation of all research steps is fit for this kind of project, as it allows for self-organization in a structured way. The research journey might go down the wrong roads, discover new paths, and backtrack — but we will document it in order to better understand how the journey develops.
Find out how to get involved in the Many Paths project in our next post or send an email to the project team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of our personal motivations to set up this project are included below:
Discovering knowledge is a collective endeavor. Yet, the current approach to and particularly the current publication of science render it an individual game – Hypergraph and Many Paths can help bring much needed change to the scientific system. [Martin Götz]
It makes little sense that researchers compete and try to do the same thing individually. By cooperating, much more can be accomplished, and Many Paths can show that. [Hans van Dijk]
Large projects like Many Labs have been managed top-down, whereas self-managed collaboration might prove a viable alternative. With Many Paths and Hypergraph, it is a first to actually try this at such a scale. [Chris Hartgerink]
Science proliferates when structures and incentives are geared towards collaboration, decentralization, and increased autonomy for researchers. Many Paths is a project that integrates these important aspects of the scientific endeavour. [Marino van Zelst]