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Replication crisis: New proposal suggests, Let scientists admit mistakes and move on

What’s hot? What’s not?/Niklas Bildhauer, Wikimedia

From Dalmeet Singh Chawla at Undark:

N SEPTEMBER 2016, the psychologist Dana Carney came forward with a confession: She no longer believed the findings of a high-profile study she co-authored in 2010 to be true. The study was about “power-posing” — a theory suggesting that powerful stances can psychologically and physiologically help one when under high-pressure situations. Carney’s co-author, Amy Cuddy, a psychologist at Harvard University, had earned much fame from power poses, and her 2012 TED talk on the topic is the second most watched talk of all time.

Carney, now based at the University of California, Berkeley, had, however, changed her mind. “I do not believe that ‘power pose’ effects are real,” she wrote on her website in 2016. The reason, she added, was that “since early 2015 the evidence has been mounting suggesting there is unlikely any embodied effect of nonverbal expansiveness.”

But, of course, a hellstorm broke out because when science is a religion, scientists can’t be wrong without being Bad. Now some people are asking, why can’t it be safe to fail honestly?

A 2016 survey by Nature of more than 1,500 scientists found that more than 70 percent of researchers failed to successfully reproduce another researcher’s work and more than half failed to reproduce their own. Psychology is one of the most affected disciplines, with studies suggesting that wearing red makes one more attractive, or that smiling makes people happier, proving difficult for follow-up researchers to reproduce.

Reformers suggest that one cause of the nonsense explosion is that there is no way to safely express loss of confidence. So now,

Of course, some researchers have argued that the replication crisis is exaggerated. But even if that is the case, there really is no effective way for scientists to quickly and publicly inform colleagues that they are no longer confident in their published work. Public declarations like Carney’s are one way to go, but they are often difficult to track. So an ambitious new effort, motivated by Carney’s move, is encouraging psychologists to own up to shortcomings in their published work via a website in the form of official loss-of-confidence statements — published at a single online clearinghouse for such confessions called the Loss of Confidence Project. More.

Interestingly, in his recent book, Post-Truth: Knowledge as a Power Game, Steve Fuller notes that one big change in recent centuries has been that societies have reduced the cost of error (that is, the penalties are ridicule and ostracism rather than banishment or execution). That change encouraged the science explosion and maybe we should look at making more formal use of it.

Many incorrect beliefs about evolution are embedded in research. Claims about “junk DNA” come quickly to mind. What if researchers could just say, We did our best but we were mistaken? Instead of having to prove that somehow that they were right anyway?

See also: Paul Nelson: Junk DNA is one of those propositions that have “just about the worst track record” in biology.


Study of causes of science skepticism sails right by the most obvious cause Another obvious cause: When people generally know that sources of authority cannot safely admit they were wrong, the smell travels and leads to more general suspicion about how much is wrong.


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