Thought for the month

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Origin uncertain, usually attributed as a Chinese Proverb.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

No pressure, no diamonds?

Thomas Carlyle is quoted as saying: no pressure, no diamonds. Last month the pressures for academic success led to a 52 year old French mother attempting to sit a baccalaureate exam for her daughter. The pressure to publish or perish is not new to the scientific world but there are growing concerns about fact-fabricators. Retractions of scientific claims by medical journals will probably exceed 500 in 2013. A recent open letter from over 80 signatories mainly from the psychology and behavioural sciences discussed the pressures for publications to be positive, novel, neat and eye catching leading to practices such as cherry-picking data or analyses. One of their points being that negative results, complicated results, or attempts to replicate previous studies rarely make it into the scientific record. They note that one peer-reviewed outlet has offered authors the opportunity to publish a type of article called a registered report.  Registered reports are reviewed before scientists collect data. If the scientific question and methods are deemed sound, the authors are then offered "in-principle acceptance" of their article, which virtually guarantees publication regardless of how the results turn out.

Whilst I feel that the data collection and statistical analysis methodologies in the physical sciences are often more advanced than in the behavioural sciences, the letter is worth consideration.

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