The Natural Selection of Bad Science

Authors : Paul E. Smaldino, Richard McElreath

Poor research design and data analysis encourage false-positive findings. Such poor methods persist despite perennial calls for improvement, suggesting that they result from something more than just misunderstanding.

The persistence of poor methods results partly from incentives that favor them, leading to the natural selection of bad science. This dynamic requires no conscious strategizing—no deliberate cheating nor loafing—by scientists, only that publication is a principle factor for career advancement.

Some normative methods of analysis have almost certainly been selected to further publication instead of discovery. In order to improve the culture of science, a shift must be made away from correcting misunderstandings and towards rewarding understanding. We support this argument with empirical evidence and computational modeling.

We first present a 60-year meta-analysis of statistical power in the behavioral sciences and show that power has not improved despite repeated demonstrations of the necessity of increasing power.

To demonstrate the logical consequences of structural incentives, we then present a dynamic model of scientific communities in which competing laboratories investigate novel or previously published hypotheses using culturally transmitted research methods.

As in the real world, successful labs produce more “progeny”, such that their methods are more often copied and their students are more likely to start labs of their own.

Selection for high output leads to poorer methods and increasingly high false discovery rates. We additionally show that replication slows but does not stop the process of methodological deterioration. Improving the quality of research requires change at the institutional level.

URL : The Natural Selection of Bad Science


Ethical Research Primer for the Novice Researcher

As the research process is embarked upon, it is important that a novice researcher become well versed in ethical standards. Maintaining the highest level of ethical conduct is of paramount importance at all stages of the endeavor. Unethical behavior compromises research quality, slows the advancement of knowledge, and undermines societal trust. Thus, development of familiarity and expertise surrounding ethical complexities will enhance the chances of a successful and worthwhile research project. The purpose of this article is to create awareness of the ethical dilemmas novice researchers are faced with in maintaining the academic integrity of published works. The article explores the literature related to ethics in research, and provides a discussion of a number of ethical issues which threaten research quality.

URL : Ethical Research Primer for the Novice Researcher

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Sharing Public Health Research Data: Toward the Development of Ethical Data-Sharing Practice in Low- and Middle-Income Settings

It is increasingly recognized that effective and appropriate data sharing requires the development of models of good datasharing practice capable of taking seriously both the potential benefits to be gained and the importance of ensuring that the rights and interests of participants are respected and that risk of harms is minimized. Calls for the greater sharing of individual-level data from biomedical and public health research are receiving support among researchers and research funders. Despite its potential importance, data sharing presents important ethical, social, and institutional challenges in low-income settings.

In this article, we report on qualitative research conducted in five low- and middle-income countries exploring the experiences of key research stakeholders and their views about what constitutes good data-sharing practice.

URL : Sharing Public Health Research Data

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Retraction policies of top scientific journals ranked by impact factor


This study gathered information about the retraction policies of the top 200 scientific journals, ranked by impact factor.


Editors of the top 200 science journals for the year 2012 were contacted by email.


One hundred forty-seven journals (74%) responded to a request for information. Of these, 95 (65%) had a retraction policy. Of journals with a retraction policy, 94% had a policy that allows the editors to retract articles without authors’ consent.


The majority of journals in this sample had a retraction policy, and almost all of them would retract an article without the authors’ permission.


Publishing Ethics and Predatory Practices: A Dilemma for All Stakeholders of Science Communication

Publishing scholarly articles in traditional and newly-launched journals is a responsible task, requiring diligence from authors, reviewers, editors, and publishers. The current generation of scientific authors has ample opportunities for publicizing their research. However, they have to selectively target journals and publish in compliance with the established norms of publishing ethics. Over the past few years, numerous illegitimate or predatory journals have emerged in most fields of science. By exploiting gold Open Access publishing, these journals paved the way for low-quality articles that threatened to change the landscape of evidence-based science.


Authors, reviewers, editors, established publishers, and learned associations should be informed about predatory publishing practices and contribute to the trustworthiness of scholarly publications. In line with this, there have been several attempts to distinguish legitimate and illegitimate journals by blacklisting unethical journals (the Jeffrey Beall’s list), issuing a statement on transparency and best publishing practices (the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association’s and other global organizations’ draft document), and tightening the indexing criteria by the Directory of Open Access Journals. None of these measures alone turned to be sufficient. All stakeholders of science communication should be aware of multiple facets of unethical practices and publish well-checked and evidence-based articles.



On the Dual Uses of Science and Ethics…

On the Dual Uses of Science and Ethics: Principles, Practices, and Prospects :

“Claims about the transformations enabled by modern science and medicine have been accompanied by an unsettling question in recent years: might the knowledge being produced undermine – rather than further – human and animal well being? On the Dual Uses of Science and Ethics examines the potential for the skills, know-how, information, and techniques associated with modern biology to serve contrasting ends. In recognition of the moral ambiguity of science and technology, each chapter considers steps that might be undertaken to prevent the deliberate spread of disease. Central to achieving this aim is the consideration of what role ethics might serve. To date, the ethical analysis of the themes of this volume has been limited. This book remedies this situation by bringing together contributors from a broad range of backgrounds to address a highly important ethical issue confronting humanity during the 21st century.”


The ethics of open access publishing

Should those who work on ethics welcome or resist moves to open access publishing? This paper analyses arguments in favour and against the increasing requirement for open access publishing and considers their implications for bioethics research. In the context of biomedical science, major funders are increasingly mandating open access as a condition of funding and such moves are also common in other disciplines.

Whilst there has been some debate about the implications of open-access for the social sciences and humanities, there has been little if any discussion about the implications of open access for ethics. This is surprising given both the central role of public reason and critique in ethics and the fact that many of the arguments made for and against open access have been couched in moral terms.

In what follows I argue that those who work in ethics have a strong interest in supporting moves towards more open publishing approaches which have the potential both to inform and promote richer and more diverse forms of public deliberation and to be enriched by them. The importance of public deliberation in practical and applied ethics suggests that ethicists have a particular interest in the promotion of diverse and experimental forms of publication and debate and in supporting new, more creative and more participatory approaches to publication.