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How Shoddy Data Becomes Sensational Research

Chronicle of Higher Education [read free]: “Over the past 20 years, a wave of improbable-sounding scientific research has come under the microscope. Are Asian Americans really prone to heart attacks on the fourth day of every month? Do power poses really increase testosterone? Do men really eat more pizza when women are around? Are people named Brady really more susceptible to bradycardia (a slower-than-normal heart rate)? As early as 2005, alarm bells were going off over unrigorous social-science research — that was the year John P.A. Ioannidis, a Stanford professor of medicine, published “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” in PLOS Medicine. Since then, self-appointed “data thugs” have championed more transparent research practices, watchdog projects including the Center for Open Science and the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford have attempted to tackle the problem, and reproducibility efforts have gained steam in disciplines ranging from medicine to psychology to economics. And yet, after decades of awareness efforts, dubious research still finds a home in scholarly journals. Surgeries are more likely to be fatal if they are done on the surgeon’s birthday, argues a medical paper. Fatal motorcycle accidents are more common when there is a full moon, claims a paper by a medical researcher and a psychologist. Bitcoin prices correlate with stock prices in the health-care industry, posits an economics paper. To understand the persistence of dodgy research, it helps to consider the motivation and methods.”

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