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Behavioral research may overstate results

Analysis implicates ambiguous methods and publish-or-perish culture in the United States

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2:58pm, August 26, 2013

Here’s a hard pill to swallow for practitioners of “soft” sciences: Behavioral studies statistically exaggerate findings more often than investigations of biological processes do, especially if U.S. scientists are involved, a new report finds.

The inflated results stem from there being little consensus about experimental methods and measures in behavioral research, combined with intense publish-or-perish pressure in the United States, say evolutionary biologist Daniele Fanelli of the University of Edinburgh and epidemiologist John Ioannidis of Stanford University. Without clear theories and standardized procedures, behavioral scientists have a lot of leeway to produce results that they expect to find, even if they’re not aware of doing so, the researchers conclude Aug. 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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