Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
image'This finding, like this stock image, is uncredible!'Shutterstock

Science is considered a source of truth and the importance of its role in shaping modern society cannot be overstated. But in recent years science has entered a crisis of trust.

The results of many scientific experiments appear to be surprisingly hard to reproduce, while mistakes have highlighted flaws in the peer review system. This has hit scientific credibility and prompted researchers to create new measures in order to maintain the quality of academic research and its findings.

Credibility crisis

This is particularly relevant in the UK, whose government prides itself on science-driven policy making. Policies are often drawn from behavioural research, traditionally considered a “soft science”. The head of the UK’s behavioural insights team – the “nudge unit” – argues that these days research economists can “change the world for the better”. But social scientists have debated the reliability and reproducibility of some behavioural research, prompting some to wonder whether science-driven policy has its limitations – and whether over-reliance on it can even backfire.

So leading scientists have suggested a variety of proposals to change the way that science produces knowledge. These include promoting transparency concerning research designs, incentives for more experimental repetition and enforcing the submission of a full plan of the design and analysis prior to the actual study – known as pre-registration.

It is remarkable, however, that economists have so far been content to remain so silent on this credibility crisis. It is, after all, the science that specialises in the analysis of strategic behaviour and the provision of incentives to promote desirable outcomes.

Our research takes up this challenge and provides a first step in examining the theoretical effects of the proposed policies of increased transparency and monitoring on the reliability of scientific results.

Scientific steroids

Although the image of altruistic researchers working hard to discover the truth is strong in the minds of the general public, the actual process in which academic research is conducted is different. Economic theory models the various incentives of scientists, prominent among which is the desire of individuals to ascend the academic ladder.

We focus on proposals to impose transparency – which will stop researchers from committing the questionable practises which make scientific evidence difficult to interpret.

The main result of our model is that discouraging slight transgressions, such as failing to report important details of the analysis, will also reduce more severe questionable research practises such as outright data manipulation. This is because questionable research practises serve as the “steroids” of the scientific race, where the abundance of a given form of misconduct increases the incentives to engage in more extreme misconduct. Accordingly, a policy that eradicates mild forms of misconduct also discourages the use of stronger “performance enhancers”.

We examine a setting where researchers are motivated to conduct research ethically or to maintain a good reputation, but are also concerned about being published in a limited number of top journals. The latter is crucial, as it introduces an “economic externality”.

Easing the pressure

The likelihood of an individual researcher to commit a questionable research practice depends on the behaviour of other resarchers: more lighter transgressions will result in a higher frequency of outright manipulation – to guarantee a unique result and the corresponding acclaim which this brings.

Therefore a transparency policy that reduces lighter transgressions does not, as might be expected at first glance, lead to more severe misbehaviour. On the contrary, reducing the incidence of lighter misdemeanour will reduce competitiveness of the race to publication and thus ease the pressure of engaging in questionable practises.

Other possible policies could aim at reducing more severe transgressions – such as data fabrication – by using the relevant statistical techniques. But this could increase the rewards and frequency of lighter transgressions, making the overall effect on the reliability of scientific results unclear.

Mathematical models are especially useful when they address policy changes that are not amenable to direct experimentation. This is because it is the theory that bridges the gap between the current status quo and the proposed new one. Performing direct experiments on researcher misconduct is costly and difficult, but the potential effects of proposed reforms can still be evaluated by using economic theory.

Our model teaches us that we should feel confident that implementing the transparency proposals will help science fulfil its purpose of discovering the truth.

Zacharias Maniadis does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/how-do-we-solve-sciences-credibility-problem-39664

Writers Wanted

My best worst film: dubbed a crass Adam Sandler comedy, Click is a deep meditation on relationships


As the Queensland campaign passes the halfway mark, the election is still Labor's to lose


Two High Court of Australia judges will be named soon – unlike Amy Coney Barrett, we know nothing about them


The Conversation


Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Important Instagram marketing tips

Instagram marketing is one of the most important approaches for digital advertisers. If you want to promote products online, then Instagram along with Facebook is the perfect option. After Faceboo...

News Co - avatar News Co

Top 3 Accident Law Firms of Riverside County, CA

Do you live in Riverside County and faced an accident and now looking for a trusted Law firm to present your case? If yes, then you have come to the right place. The purpose of the article is to...

News Co - avatar News Co

3 Ways to Keep Your Business Safe with Roller Shutters

If you operate your business in a neighbourhood or city that is not known for being a safe environment, it is not surprising if you often worry about the safety of your business establishments o...

News Co - avatar News Co

News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion