Open source tools make new options available for designing experiments, doing analysis, and writing papers. Already, we can see hardware becoming available for low-cost experimentation. There is an OpenEEG project. There are open source eye tracking tools for webcams. Stimulus packages like VisionEgg can be used to collect reaction times or to send precise timing signals to fMRI scanners. Neurolens is a free functional neuroimage analysis tool.
Cheaper hardware and software make it easier for students to practice techniques in undergraduate labs, and easier for graduate students to try new ideas that might otherwise be cost-prohibitive.
Results can be collected and annotated using personal wiki lab notebook programs like Garrett Lisi’s deferentialgeometry.org. Although some people, like Lisi, share their notebooks on the web (a practice known as open notebook science), it is not necessary to share wiki notebooks with anyone to receive substantial benefit from them. Wiki notebooks are an aid to the working researcher because they can be used to record methods, references and stimuli in much more detail than the published paper can afford. Lab notebooks, significantly, can include pointers to all of the raw data, together with each transformation along the chain of data provenance. This inspires trust in the analysis, and makes replication easier. Lab notebooks can also be a place to make a record of the commands that were used to generate tables and graphs in languages like R.
R is an open source statistics package. It scriptable, and can be used in place of SPSS (Revelle (2008), Baron & Li (2007)). It is multi-platform, can be freely shared with collaborators, and can import and export data in a CSV form that is readable by other statistics packages, spreadsheets, and graphing packages.
R code can be embedded directly into a LaTeX or OpenOffice document using a utility called Sweave. Sweave can be used with LaTeX to automatically format documents in APA style (Zahn, 2008). With Sweave, when you see a graph or table in a paper, it’s always up to date, generated on the fly from the original R code when the PDF is generated. Including the LaTeX along with the PDF becomes a form of reproducible research, rooted in Donald Knuth’s idea of literate programming. When you want to know in detail how the analysis was done, you need look no further than the source text of the paper itself.
Baron, J. & Li, Y. (9 Nov 2007). ‘Notes on the use of R for psychology experiments and questionnaires.’
Revelle, W. (25 May 2008). ‘Using R for Psychological Research. A simple guide to an elegant package.’ http://www.personality-project.org/R/
Zahn, Ista. (2008). ‘Learning to Sweave in APA Style.’ The PracTeX Journal. http://www.tug.org/pracjourn/2008-1/zahn/