"Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can." - Peter Singer
"Common sense is not so common." - Voltaire
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Inevitable Evolution of Bad Science

Ed Yong
The Atlantic
Originally published September 21, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

In the model, as in real academia, positive results are easier to publish than negative one, and labs that publish more get more prestige, funding, and students. They also pass their practices on. With every generation, one of the oldest labs dies off, while one of the most productive one reproduces, creating an offspring that mimics the research style of the parent. That’s the equivalent of a student from a successful team starting a lab of their own.

Over time, and across many simulations, the virtual labs inexorably slid towards less effort, poorer methods, and almost entirely unreliable results. And here’s the important thing: Unlike the hypothetical researcher I conjured up earlier, none of these simulated scientists are actively trying to cheat. They used no strategy, and they behaved with integrity. And yet, the community naturally slid towards poorer methods. What the model shows is that a world that rewards scientists for publications above all else—a world not unlike this one—naturally selects for weak science.

“The model may even be optimistic,” says Brian Nosek from the Center of Open Science, because it doesn’t account for our unfortunate tendency to justify and defend the status quo. He notes, for example, that studies in the social and biological sciences are, on average, woefully underpowered—they are too small to find reliable results.

The article is here.
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