Daniele Fanelli: Do Pressures to Publish Increase Scientists’ Bias? An Empirical Support from US States Data (PDF)

Daniele Fanelli: Do Pressures to Publish Increase Scientists’ Bias? An Empirical Support from US States Data (PDF)

The growing competition and ‘‘publish or perish’’ culture in academia might conflict with the objectivity and integrity of research, because it forces scientists to produce ‘‘publishable’’ results at all costs. Papers are less likely to be published and to be cited if they report ‘‘negative’’ results (results that fail to support the tested hypothesis). Therefore, if publication pressures increase scientific bias, the frequency of ‘‘positive’’ results in the literature should be higher in the more competitive and ‘‘productive’’ academic environments. This study verified this hypothesis by measuring the frequency of positive results in a large random sample of papers with a corresponding author based in the US. Across all disciplines, papers were more likely to support a tested hypothesis if their corresponding authors were working in states that, according to NSF data, produced more academic papers per capita. The size of this effect increased when controlling for state’s per capita R&D expenditure and for study characteristics that previous research showed to correlate with the frequency of positive results, including discipline and methodology. Although the confounding effect of institutions’ prestige could not be excluded (researchers in the more productive universities could be the most clever and successful in their experiments), these results support the hypothesis that competitive academic environments increase not only scientists’ productivity but also their bias. The same phenomenon might be observed in other countries where academic competition and pressures to publish are high.

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