Bias Seen in Behavioral Studies: Analysis Suggests Researchers Too Often Find What They Seek

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, October 5, 2013 | Go to article overview

Bias Seen in Behavioral Studies: Analysis Suggests Researchers Too Often Find What They Seek


Bower, Bruce, Science News


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.

The inflated results stem from alack of 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 it, the researchers conclude in the Sept. 10 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Sadly, the general finding about U.S. science sounds rather plausible," remarks psychologist Hal Pashler of the University of California, San Diego.

Fanelli and Ioannidis examined the primary findings of 1,174 studies that appeared in 82 recently published recta-analyses. A meta-analysis weighs and combines results from related studies to estimate the true effect in a set of reported findings.

The researchers divided the studies into three types. …

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