Accepted Paper:

It's the context, stupid: Reproducibility as a scientific communication problem  


Brittany Fiore-Gartland (University of Washington)
Anissa Tanweer (University of Washington)

Paper short abstract:

Context in data-intensive research is often seen as something that can be captured with metadata to extend reproducibility. Based on varied ways “context” is marshalled in reproducibility practice, we argue for a nuanced view of context and reframing of reproducibility as a communication problem.

Paper long abstract:

Reproducibility has long been considered integral to scientific research and increasingly must be adapted to highly computational, data-intensive practices. Central to reproducibility is the sharing of data across varied settings. Many scholars note that reproducible research necessitates thorough documentation and communication of the context in which scientific data and code are generated and transformed. Yet there has been some pushback against the generic use of the term context (Nicolini, 2012); for, as Seaver puts it, "the nice thing about context is everyone has it" (2015). Dourish (2004) articulates two approaches to context: representational and interactional. The representational perspective sees context as stable, delineable information; in terms of reproducibility, this is the sort of context that can be captured and communicated with metadata, such as location, time, and size. An interactional perspective, on the other hand, views context not as static information but as a relational and dynamic property arising from activity; something that is much harder to capture and convey using metadata or any other technological fix. In two years of ethnographic research with scientists negotiating reproducibility in their own data-intensive work, we found "context" being marshalled in multiple ways to mean different things within scientific practice and discourses of reproducibility advocates. Finding gaps in perspectives on context across stakeholders, we reframe reproducibility as a scientific communication problem, a move that recognizes the limits of representational context for the purpose of reproducible research and underscores the importance of developing cultures and practices for conveying interactional context.

Panel T113
Critical data studies