Cut-throat academia leads to ‘natural selection of bad science’, claims study

Hannah Devlin in The Guardian:

2240Getting stuff right is normally regarded as science’s central aim. But a new analysis has raised the existential spectre that universities, laboratory chiefs and academic journals are contributing to the “natural selection of bad science”.

To thrive in the cut-throat world of academia, scientists are incentivised to publish surprising findings frequently, the study suggests – despite the risk that such findings are “most likely to be wrong”.

Paul Smaldino, a cognitive scientist who led the work at the University of California, Merced, said: “As long as the incentives are in place that reward publishing novel, surprising results, often and in high-visibility journals above other, more nuanced aspects of science, shoddy practices that maximise one’s ability to do so will run rampant.”

The paper comes as psychologists and biomedical scientists are grappling with an apparent replication crisis, in which many high profile results have been shown to be unreliable. Observations that striking a power pose will make you feel bolder, smiling makes you feel happy or that placing a pair of “big brother” eyes on the wall will protect against theft have all failed to stand up to replication.

Sociology, economics, climate science and ecology are other areas likely to be vulnerable to the propagation of bad practice, according to Smaldino.

More here.