Quality Uncertainty Erodes Trust in Science

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When consumers of science (readers and reviewers) lack relevant details about the study design, data, and analyses, they cannot adequately evaluate the strength of a scientific study. Lack of transparency is common in science, and is encouraged by journals that place more emphasis on the aesthetic appeal of a manuscript than the robustness of its scientific claims. In doing this, journals are implicitly encouraging authors to do whatever it takes to obtain eye-catching results. To achieve this, researchers can use common research practices that beautify results at the expense of the robustness of those results (e.g., p-hacking). The problem is not engaging in these practices, but failing to disclose them. A car whose carburetor is duct-taped to the rest of the car might work perfectly fine, but the buyer has a right to know about the duct-taping. Without high levels of transparency in scientific publications, consumers of scientific manuscripts are in a similar position as buyers of used cars – they cannot reliably tell the difference between lemons and high quality findings. This phenomenon – quality uncertainty – has been shown to erode trust in economic markets, such as the used car market. The same problem threatens to erode trust in science. The solution is to increase transparency and give consumers of scientific research the information they need to accurately evaluate research. Transparency would also encourage researchers to be more careful in how they conduct their studies and write up their results. To make this happen, we must tie journals’ reputations to their practices regarding transparency. Reviewers hold a great deal of power to make this happen, by demanding the transparency needed to rigorously evaluate scientific manuscripts. The public expects transparency from science, and appropriately so – we should be held to a higher standard than used car salespeople

Link to resource: http://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.74

Type of resources: Primary Source, Reading, Paper

Education level(s): College / Upper Division (Undergraduates)

Primary user(s): Student

Subject area(s): Applied Science, Social Science

Language(s): English