Bryan Caplan  

Increase the Demand for Counter-Intuition, Move Along the Supply Curve for Fraud

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From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The discovery that the Dutch researcher Diederik A. Stapel made up the data for dozens of research papers has shaken up the field of social psychology, fueling a discussion not just about outright fraud, but also about subtler ways of misusing research data...

[...]

Eric-Jan Wagenmakers, of the University of Amsterdam, added a sociological twist to the statistical debate: Psychology, he argued in a recent blog post and an interview, has become addicted to surprising, counterintuitive findings that catch the news media's eye, and that trend is warping the field.

[...]

In September, in comments quoted by the statistician Andrew Gelman on his blog, Mr. Wagenmakers wrote: "The field of social psychology has become very competitive, and high-impact publications are only possible for results that are really surprising. Unfortunately, most surprising hypotheses are wrong. That is, unless you test them against data you've created yourself."

Still, this rebuttal rings true:
Robert V. Kail, editor of Psychological Science, says he's never heard of the likelihood of press attention being used as a reason to publish a researcher's work. Rather, he says, he asks his reviewers: "If you are a psychologist in a specialty area, is this the kind of result that is so stimulating or controversial or thought-provoking that you'd want to run down the hall and tell your colleagues in another subfield, 'This is what people in my field are doing, and it's really cool.'?
But how telling is this rebuttal, really?  Kail's objection merely shows that researchers are trying to get results that titillate their peers rather than the general public.  Is that any better?


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