Sharing research data is beneficial especially for pre-doctoral researchers

Moritz Appels talks about his experience with Open Science

Photo of Moritz Appels

Three key learnings:

  • is a good tool for sharing research findings with peers and others. Users can share their datasets, but also software, publications or presentations.
  • If you want to reuse colleagues’ research data, you can often get them with a personal request.
  • People who want to build a good network share their research findings, including preliminary results. Pre-doctoral researchers can often divide coding work and other tasks between them.

You study corporate activism. How is it different from lobbying or Corporate Social Responsibility?

MA: Broadly speaking, I look at the intersection between business and politics. I am particularly interested in cases where business intervenes in politics or tries to take part in it. This can take different forms such as Corporate Social Responsibility, lobbying or activism. I am mostly studying activism. Activism differs from the other activities in so far as the companies – usually their CEOs – address topics that are not generally accepted, but are often very controversial instead. If a company gives money to a children’s charity it causes no waves in society. But if a company in Texas, where I am staying right now, speaks up for the right to an abortion, then a significant share of the population here will mount the barricades. That is an essential difference between activism and CSR. There doesn’t have to be any money changing hands. In contrast to lobbying, activism is about stating things publicly and visibly. Lobbying usually takes place behind closed doors. The visibility and the controversiality of activism interest me. I look at how consumers or jobseekers react to it and what the political effects on society are.

What’s the subject of your research?

MA: We carry out a lot of experiments and also plan interview studies. We also have big surveys and do panel data research where we study archived materials and look when CEOs or companies made statements about which topics and if it affected the stock price. These are typical data sources for us.

When did Open Science become important for you?

MA: I obtained my bachelor degree from a university of applied sciences (FH) and ran into a paywall at a very early stage. That’s when I realised you need money to play the game. For my PhD thesis I wanted to build a panel dataset and my challenge was that many variables had to be coded by hand. Honestly, I just didn’t know how I could have managed that within the three-year time limit on the PhD besides all the other projects. I talked about it with a fellow PhD candidate who spent a whole year just assembling standard control variables. And those are not even the exciting variables. Since I was also interested in the personality aspects of CEOs, e.g. the degree of narcissism, I spent six months of my final master studies’ year going through the annual reports of companies and looking at the prominence of the CEO photos. The prominence of such photos is used as an indicator for narcissism. This was very time- and labour-intensive, I spent all my working time on it. And I could have saved myself the effort because many researchers already have this indicator lying on their computers. But nobody shares it. I asked myself “Why not?”, and then I decided that we would be the last ones to collect these photo indices from scratch. That’s why it is now available on Zenodo. That’s when I first came into contact with Open Science. It would help so much if researchers didn’t have to spend most of their time just collecting data. Especially those who have just started and are full of enthusiasm and new ideas and then literally run up against closed doors.

How did you get into the Wikimedia Fellow Programme?

MA: The Fellow Programme was mentioned in a newsletter from Mannheim University. My colleague Marc Kowalczik and I had already planned to collect narcissism and other data. And we also decided early on that we would definitely post the data online. Thus we were a good fit for the programme, received funding, and could outsource part of the work.

On the website of the Fellow Programme “Free Knowledge” you are quoted with “Open Science to me also means equal opportunities in the pursuit of research questions”. Could you explain this?

MA: For one thing, all students, even those at minor universities, should have the same access to literature as the students at Excellence Universities. Everything else is deeply unfair. And there must be equal opportunities not only in Germany, but in other countries as well. When it comes to datasets, especially, many universities, especially in less well-off countries, do not have the money for the relevant datasets. But without good datasets you can’t be a player in the research competition. I consider this to be unfair. And thirdly there should be equal opportunities for all stages of a scientific career. Let me give an example: If you’re just starting your career and spend the first years effectively just coding articles, because pre-docs don’t have a flock of research assistants at hand, then you will have assembled your data after two years and can work on your first research idea. But after two years the data will be obsolete already, and I think that’s a shame. Not everything is a question of money, but in strategy research it really is the case that many research questions can’t be pursued if you don’t have sufficient funding. In financial research, too, authors often need three-digit sums just for submitting their manuscript to a journal. Not every institution can afford that.

What’s the reaction in your field when you share and publish, in particular if it’s not final yet?

MA: My supervisor is very positive about it. We have written a paper together which is currently under review, and initially we said we’ll upload it as soon as we have a working paper version.

Does your field of research have a young vanguard which drives openness?

MA: I haven’t been around long enough to be able to make holistic statements about my field of research. People in my closer environment, especially in strategy research, are always happy if someone finds exciting datasets that are publicly accessible. And that gets spread around. All PhD candidates to whom I talked about data exchange approved it. And it has been straightforward and quick. But I must admit that I never asked why the data are not published in a repository. I do notice however, that more and more senior researchers, i.e. professors, put more emphasis on Open Science. Strategic Management Journal, one of the most important outlets in the field, has recently started to accept publications about Open Access datasets. An article about the creation of the dataset is published in the journal and a link is provided to the site (e.g. Zenodo) where the data can be accessed. I was skeptical at first and thought it was only lip-service, but recently they actually published a paper by Richard J Gentry et. al.. I think that’s a brilliant and novel development. It is a big step if a top journal sets such incentives, and that top researchers adopt and implement this.

Have you published your collected data yet?

MA: Marc Kowalzick and I uploaded a first version to Zenodo named “Dataset for Manually Coded Firm Founding Dates, CEO Duality, and CEO Photograph Prominence in Annual Reports”. The Fellow Programme enabled us to enlarge the dataset even further.

When you consume publications yourself, do you take into account if data are linked for better transparency?

MA: Yes, definitely. It seems to be much more widespread in psychological research. Especially in experimental studies I think it really shouldn’t be a problem. I always find the methodological appendices exciting.

How do you perceive the mutual exchange as a Fellow? Do you learn something that you can share with the other candidates?

MA: During the Fellowship I learned a tremendous amount. I must admit that I didn’t know what Zenodo is before I joined. I talked a lot with my mentor Maximilian Heimstädt about the best places to publish research findings. That’s when I learned what a cool space Zenodo is and for what else you can use GitHub. I learned many basics and I understood the rationale of Open Science. I had been much frustrated by Closed Science, but through the Fellow Programme I learned how to find solutions. Before I just griped. Now I can change things. I have sent the link to my Zenodo dataset quite a few times within my network.

What are the tips and tricks you would offer to economists who have had no experience with Open Science until now?

MA: Again: I am an absolute newbie researcher, but perhaps my advice to other junior researchers would be: never understimate the willingness of professors to share their data in the end. We talked to a US professor, who is kind of the godfather of videometrics, who was very willing to share data. My impression is that the Open Science idea is very popular already, but not practised very much. In my mind that’s not only because of a certain fear of competition, but also because of the legal and moral snares in connection with the CEO data. I was surprised by how many professors publish their unique data on their websites. So my tip is: check out the websites of the original authors whose data you would like to have. Talk to peers and share your experiences. I have only met doctoral fellows who are happy to share their stuff and to do an exchange. Everyone is happy if they can have some division of labour.

Thank you!

The questions were asked by Dr Doreen Siegfried.

The interview was conducted on October 19, 2021.

About Moritz Appels

Moritz Appels is a PhD candidate at the Chair of Sustainable Business at the University of Mannheim. In his research he studies primarily the interplay between political and economic actors. He is also attending the Doctoral Programme “Ethics and Responsible Leadership in Business” of the Wittenberg Centre for Global Ethics. Moritz Appels is an alumnus of the Fellow Programme “Free Knowledge” of Wikimedia and was a Visiting Scholar at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University (USA) from 1 October to 30 November.


ORCID-ID: 0000-0002-5015-8004


to Open Science Magazine