GRESHAM’S LAW OF SCIENCE: Study warns that science as we know it is evolving into something shoddy and unreliable.
To draw attention to the way good scientists are pressured into publishing bad science (read: sensational and surprising results), researchers in the US developed a computer model to simulate what happens when scientists compete for academic prestige and jobs.
In the model, devised by researchers at the University of California, Merced, all the simulated lab groups they put in these scenarios were honest – they didn’t intentionally cheat or fudge results.
But they received greater rewards if they published ‘novel’ findings – as happens in the real world. They also had to expend greater effort to be rigorous in their methods – which would improve the quality of their research, but lower their academic output.
“The result: Over time, effort decreased to its minimum value, and the rate of false discoveries skyrocketed,” lead researcher Paul Smaldino explains in The Conversation.
And what’s more, the model suggests that the ‘bad’ (if you will) scientists who take shortcuts in relation to the incentives on offer will end up passing on their methods to the next generation of scientists who work in their lab, creating in effect an evolutionary conundrum that the study authors call “the natural selection of bad science”.
It’s not really settled science until you can reduce it to engineering.