Pressure for positive results puts science under threat, study shows

Scientific research may be in decline across the globe because of growing pressures to report only positive results, new analysis suggests.

A study by the University of Edinburgh examined more than 4,600 scientific published between 1990 and 2007 and found a steady decline in studies in which the findings contradicted scientific .

Papers reporting null or negative findings are in principle as useful as positive ones, but they attract fewer readers and citations, so tend to reject them.

It is acknowledged among scientists that this problem might be worsening, because competition in science is growing and jobs and grants are given to scientists who publish frequently in high-ranking journals. Many researchers, therefore, have speculated that scientists will increasingly pursue predictable outcomes and produce positive results through re-interpretation, selection or even manipulation of data.

The study examined research papers in which a had been tested, in various scientific disciplines. Over the period studied, positive results grew from around 70 per cent in 1990 to 86 per cent in 2007. The growth was strongest in economics, business, clinical medicine, psychology, psychiatry, pharmacology and .

The findings, published in , also show that papers reporting positive results are more frequent in the US than in Europe.

Dr Daniele Fanelli of the University's Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation, who led the study, said: "Either journals are rejecting more negative results, or scientists are producing more positives. It is most likely a combination of both.

"Without negative evidence in the literature, scientists might misestimate the importance of phenomena and waste resources replicating failed studies. The higher frequency of US papers reporting positive findings may suggest that problems linked to competition are greater in the US than elsewhere."

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Provided by University of Edinburgh
Citation: Pressure for positive results puts science under threat, study shows (2011, September 12) retrieved 16 October 2019 from
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User comments

Sep 12, 2011
Sounds an interesting paper. Shame the University of Edinburgh jumped the gun as the paper is not even yet in advanced publication of Scientometrics.

Sep 14, 2011
Some journals (these most influential in particular) even refute to publish results without underlying theories. No wonder, the cold fusion findings were ignored or even ridiculed so long time.

Sep 14, 2011
BTW Why PhysOrg is not able to cite its sources?

Sep 14, 2011
The bigger concern to me is whether the results are accurate and reproducible. It seems that there is so much junk being put in journals today as reputable research that was disproved 40-50 years ago or, worse repeated work that was done 40 or 50 or even 70 or 80 years ago and taken as some great new discovery by some brilliant new mind.
We are wasting time and money because kids don't want to take the time to go to the library and look up whether what they are doing has been done before.
We have a bunch of juvenile plagiarizers because even the kids at the journals don't realize it since they don't read anything over 20 years old either and their selective Alzheimer's keeps anything older out.

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