What is the real problem science faces?

In the past several years, there has been much writte about the problems of science (Ionnaddis, 2005; Benos et al., 1998; John, Loewenstein, & Prelec, 2012; Asendorpf, et al., 2013; Rosenthal, 1979).

Here, we are less interested in describing these specific problems, than attempting to understand what they all have in common.

The real problem for science is the desire for success and power (or the desire to avoid failure) which puts our own interests above the interest of the group (Higgins, 1997; Fehr & Fishbacher, 2003). We want to be successful and we sometimes bend the rules in order to be so. 

The dilemma goes something like this: in order to forward (or at least keep) our careers, we must publish ‘high impact work’, preferably in the best journals. There is stiff competition to publish in these journals and in order to compete we need the perfect paper that others say is the problem (Giner-Sorolla, 2012). In order to achieve this, we so all sorts of things like put studies that don’t fit the story into the file drawer, avoid work that is not novel, or engage in many other types of prevalent ‘questionable research practices’ (QRPs; John et al., 2012).

This drive is not necessarily a bad thing; after all, it is what drove us to do science in the first place and is the source of essentially all human progress. The problem is that the current incentive system is so backwards as to make what is good for the group (e.g., no QRP’s, replication) bad for the individual, because it is not ‘high impact’ work and, thus, does not merit tenure.

Those who ‘cheat’ (use QRPs) have had better outcomes than those who did not, which ensured that they are the ones teaching future generations and, given enough generations, bad norms develop and are institutionalized (e.g., file drawer, p-hacking; John, et al., 2012).

There will always be people trying to obtain an advantage and get ahead (it is human nature); the goal should be to make sure that striving for success is also good for the group. More importantly, the system, the game that the individual plays,

The goal should be to design a system that properly rewards good group based behavior while minimizing the opportunities/ need to work against the group interest (Skinner, 1976; Thaler, & Sunstein, 2008).

What do you think, do you agree? Science is pretty important..

Works cited.

Asendorpf, J. B., Conner, M., De Fruyt, F., De Houwer, J., Denissen, J. J., Fiedler, K., … & Wicherts, J. M. (2013). Recommendations for increasing replicability in psychology. European Journal of Personality27(2), 108-119.

Bekkers, R. (2012). Risk factors for fraud and academic misconduct in the social sciences. Academia. Edu. http://renebekkers.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/risk-factors.pdf

Benos, D. J., Bashari, E., Chaves, J. M., Gaggar, A., Kapoor, N., LaFrance, M., … & Zotov, A. (2007). The ups and downs of peer review. Advances in physiology education31(2), 145-152.

Bian, J., Liu, Y., Zhou, D., Agichtein, E., & Zha, H. (2009). Learning to recognize reliable users and content in social media with coupled mutual reinforcement. In Proceedings of the 18th international conference on World wide web (pp. 51-60). ACM.

Björk, B. C., & Hedlund, T. (2004). A formalised model of the scientific publication process. Online Information Review28(1), 8-21.

Blanchard, B. S., & Fabrycky, W. J. (1990). Systems engineering and analysis (Vol. 4). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Bo-Christer, B. (2007). A model of scientific communication as a global distributed information system.

Deci, E. L. (1971). Effects of externally mediated rewards on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 18, 105-115.

Edlin, A. S., & Rubinfeld, D. L. (2004). Exclusion or Efficient Pricing: The” Big Deal” Bundling of Academic Journals. Antitrust Law Journal, 72, 119.

Fehr, E. & Fischbacher, U. (2003).  The nature of human altruism. Nature, 425, 785–791. (doi:10.1038/nature02043)

Francis, G. (2012). Too good to be true: Publication bias in two prominent studies from experimental psychology. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review19(2), 151-156.

Frey, B. S. (2005). Problems with publishing: Existing state and solutions.European Journal of Law and Economics19(2), 173-190.

Giner-Sorolla, R., (2012). Will we march to utopia, or be dragged there? Past failures and future hopes for publishing our science. Psychological Inquiry, 23, 263 – 266.

Godlee, F., Gale, C. R., Martyn, C. N., (1998). Effect on quality of peer review of blinding reviewers and asking them to sign their reports. Journal of the American Medical Association, 280, 237 – 240.

Harley, D., Acord, S. K., Earl-Novell, S., Lawrence, S., & King, C. J. (2010). Assessing the future landscape of scholarly communication: An exploration of faculty values and needs in seven disciplines.

Hartgerink, C. (2014). Open science protocol. Poster to be presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Higgins, E. T., (1997). Beyond pleasure and pain. American Psychologist,52, 1280 – 1300.

Huxley, A. (1935). Brave new world. HarperCollins.

Ioannidis, J. P. (2005). Why most published research findings are false. PLoS medicine2(8), e124.

Ioannidis, J. P. (2012). Why science is not necessarily self-correcting.Perspectives on Psychological Science7(6), 645-654.

Ioannidis, J. P. (2012b). Scientific communication is down at the moment, please check again later. Psychological Inquiry23(3), 267-270.

John, L. K., Loewenstein, G., Prelec, D., (2012). Measuring questionable research practices with incentives for truth telling. Psychological Science, 23, 524 – 532.

Legris, P. Ingham, J., Collerette, P., (2003). Why do people use information technology? A critical review of the technology acceptance model. Information and Management, 40, 191 – 204.

Marcus, A., & Oransky, I. (2011). Science publishing: The paper is not sacred.Nature480(7378), 449-450.

Nadelmann, E. A. (1989). Drug prohibition in the United States: Costs, consequences, and alternatives. Science245(4921), 939-947.

Nosek, B., & Bar-Anan, Y.,  (2012). Scientific utopia: 1. Opening scientific communication. Psychological Inquiry.

Orwell, G., (1949). Ninteen Eighty Four.  Editions Underbahn Ltd..

Priem, J., Taraborelli, D., Groth, P., & Neylon, C., (2010). Almetrics: A manifesto.

Rand, A. (1937). Anthem. MobileReference.

Rennie, D. (1999). Editorial peer review: its development and rationale. Peer review in health sciences. London: BMJ Books, 3-13.

Rosenthal, R. (1979). The file drawer problem and tolerance for null results. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 638-641.

Ross, A. M., Rhodes, D. H., & Hastings, D. E. (2008). Defining changeability: Reconciling flexibility, adaptability, scalability, modifiability, and robustness for maintaining system lifecycle value. Systems Engineering11(3), 246-262.

Schmidt, D. (2013). Is there an ethical demand to avoid research topics that may hurt individuals? Evolutionary Psychology Facebook Group.

Simmons, J. P., Nelson, L. D., & Simonsohn, U. (2011). False-positive psychology undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis allows presenting anything as significant. Psychological science22(11), 1359-1366.

Skinner, B. F.(1972). Beyond freedom and dignity (p. 142). New York: Bantam Books.

Skinner, B. F., & Hayes, J. (1976). Walden two. New York: Macmillan.

Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Yale University Press.

Watson, J. B. (1913). Psychology as the Behaviorist Views it. Psychological review20(2), 158.

Zimmer, C. (2012). A sharp rise in retractions prompts calls for reform. The New York Times.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s