Science or art? How aesthetic standards grease the way through the publication bottleneck but undermine science.

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The current crisis in psychological research involves issues of fraud, replication, publication bias, and false positive results. I argue that this crisis follows the failure of widely adopted solutions to psychology’s similar crisis of the 1970s. The untouched root cause is an information-economic one: Too many studies divided by too few publication outlets equals a bottleneck. Articles cannot pass through just by showing theoretical meaning and methodological rigor; their results must appear to support the hypothesis perfectly. Consequently, psychologists must master the art of presenting perfect-looking results just to survive in the profession. This favors aesthetic criteria of presentation in a way that harms science’s search for truth. Shallow standards of statistical perfection distort analyses and undermine the accuracy of cumulative data; narrative expectations encourage dishonesty about the relationship between results and hypotheses; criteria of novelty suppress replication attempts. Concerns about truth in research are emerging in other sciences and may eventually descend on our heads in the form of difficult and insensitive regulations. I suggest a more palatable solution: to open the bottleneck, putting structures in place to reward broader forms of information sharing beyond the exquisite art of present-day journal publication.

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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