So, the legend goes, a newly-hired typist once referred to "econometrics."  But that might be a truthful description of what goes on in research, according to recent work by Sarah Necker of the London School.
Almost every economist reports having engaged in at least one practice considered unacceptable by peers. For example, one third of the participants admit to having cherry-picked results – the selective presentation of empirical results that confirm one’s argument is rejected by 84%. Even though 64% consider it unacceptable to divide one’s work into small units to maximize the number of publications, 20% confess salami slicing. Strategic behavior in the publication process is considered unjustifiable by two thirds. However, 39% admit that they have taken into account suggestions of referees or editors even though they thought that they were wrong. Even 60% report that they have cited strategically to raise publication prospects.
Deans may not be able to understand the arguments, but they can count. Does it come as a surprise that much of the research enterprise turns into a quest for the minimal publishable unit?  Or that average people cut corners?
For example, it is 14 percentage points more likely that an economist perceiving “very high” pressure admits to having cherry-picked results than that an economist perceiving only “moderately high” pressure confesses the deed. Although the results cannot prove causality, they are consistent with the notion that pressure motivates researchers to act dishonestly.
Better to get that significant result, than to be thought of as a journeyman?

That, despite the possibility of research programmes, including trendy methodologies, emerging as a way of generating minimal publishable units rather than answering serious questions.  More on this score in a few days.

1 comment:

Dave Tufte said...

Ah, ah, ah ... I'm proof positive that some deans can't or won't count (much less read).