It’s not just Psychology: Questionable Research Practices in Ecology

Today’s fine article from The Conversation is:

Our survey found ‘questionable research practices’ by ecologists and biologists – here’s what that means

The authors are Fiona Fidler and Hannah Fraser, of The University of Melbourne.

Fidler and Fraser surveyed 807 researchers (494 ecologists and 313 evolutionary biologists) about their use of Questionable Research Practices (QRPs), including cherry picking statistically significant results, p-hacking, and hypothesising after the results are known (HARKing). The authors also asked them to estimate the proportion of their colleagues that use each of these QRPs. For each QRP, roughly around half the respondents stated that they had used that practice at least once. For some practices, they estimated higher rates among their research colleagues. These results are confronting, but the proportions are similar to those previously reported for psychology.

The preprint that gives more details of their survey and the results is here.

So QRPs have been endemic in Psychology, and now Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. And in even more disciplines, we’d have to guess. Open Science has, of course, developed to improve research practices, in particular by reducing QRPs markedly.

One of the problems is that anti-science forces can attempt to exploit these sort of findings, not to mention the also confronting findings of the replication crisis. The specific focus of Fidler and Fraser’s article is to respond to this problem. They pose and then reply to a number of the accusations that might be prompted by their results:

It’s fraud!
NO, it’s not! Scientific fraud does occur, and is extremely serious, but the evidence is that, thankfully, it’s very rare.

Scientists lack integrity and we shouldn’t trust them
The authors present evidence and several reasons why this is not true. The rapid rise and spread of Open Science may be the strongest indicator that researchers are responding with great integrity, energy, and conviction as they develop and adopt the better ways of Open Science.

We can’t base important decisions on current scientific evidence
On the contrary, in numerous important cases, including climate change and the effectiveness of vaccination, the evidence is multi-pronged, massive, and much replicated.

Scientists are human and we need safeguards
Yes indeed, and perhaps one of the biggest challenges of Open Science is to achieve change in the incentive systems that scientists are subjected to, and that so easily lead to QRPs.

But read the article itself–it’s short and very well-written.


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