Monday, October 10, 2016

Natural Selection of Bad Science

Smaldino and McElreath write a paper which asserts that the problem of false-positive papers in science -- especially behavioral science -- is getting worse over time, and will continue to do so as long as we reward quantity of paper outputs:
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.

Quotes Campbell's Law: "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."

Review at the Economist.

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