The "publish-or-perish culture" that dominates science today has pushed the field in an undesirable direction. But despite the fact that much of the science we see published today is inconsistently reproducible, this is not all entirely due to the "publish-or-perish" culture, nor maleficent cherry-picking motivated by self-gain. The truth behind the current situation is much more benign, although equally worrisome and harmful.
The first explanation simply lies in the imperfection of science. An article on Scientific American
reveals that even the scientists we consider greatest had experiments that led
to irreproducibility upon others’ attempts to repeat it. Rather than stigmatize
irreproducibility and experiments that didn’t “work,” it would be more
beneficial to open up discussion and generate a space where it is possible to
talk about this issue and resolve it, as is being done in PubPeer.
By making discussion about the more fallible aspects of science open,
researchers wouldn't feel pressured to only report experiments that “worked”
and hide those that didn’t. Consequently, experiments that had
statistically insignificant or unexpected results could serve as advice or inspiration
for future research.
The effects of the stigma against insignificant results and
irreproducibility are compounded by human nature. More insidious and difficult
to detect are our conflicts of interest and tendencies for dishonesty. While it
is easier to detect conflicts of interest in others, as Dan Ariely posits,
it is incredibly difficult to detect it in ourselves. Sometimes we simply think we are
furthering science by eliminating outliers that are hiding the
significance of our results which we believe to be correct. It is difficult but
necessary to take a step back and realize that it not for the benefit of
science for us to do so, but for our own.
The situation is exacerbated by the media. By reporting medical “breakthroughs”
and “miracles” in studies that sometimes weren’t even done in humans, science
is portrayed as a lot more all-powerful than it actually is. This adds to the
atmosphere of pressure for researchers to meet that same misleading bar.
Bias in science needs to be dealt with from square one. Rather than allow
ourselves to fall prey to the pressures of the scientific community to publish
and our own well-meaning intentions to illustrate hypotheses we believe should be
true, we need to accept that sometimes science isn’t infallible, breakthroughs don’t
happen as often as the media reports, and experiments that don’t yield
significant results aren’t failures.