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The crisis of replicability in Psychology

The crisis of replicability in Psychology

June 12, 2024

In recent years, since the beginning of the decade of 2010, the scientific community has called attention to the existence of a crisis of replicability in science, especially in psychology and medicine : the results of many investigations are impossible to replicate or, simply, no attempts are made to do so.

However, the problems related to the confirmation of hypotheses are not the only ones that are included in the crisis of replication, but that it has a broader character. In this sense, it is worth highlighting the importance of the falsification of results, particularly in the field of social psychology, and of other very significant methodological factors.


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The crisis of replicability in science

One of the fundamentals of the scientific method is the replication of the results . Although many people have a marked tendency to take the conclusions of a single study as credible and definitive, the truth is that a hypothesis only acquires real strength when it is confirmed by several valid studies of different research teams.

In the same sense, the negative results are so important, that is, the refutation of hypotheses, as their verification. However, the proportion of studies that refute approaches seems to have been reduced in science in general; consequently there is a clear primacy of publications that corroborate experimental hypotheses .


Many of the publications that have been carried out around the crisis of replication highlight the magnitude that has taken in psychology. However, it is necessary to make explicit that this crisis affects science as a whole and that also has a particular intensity in the case of medicine. This is due to a series of interrelated factors.

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The main causes of this phenomenon

A meta-analysis conducted by Daniele Fanelli (2009) concludes that Fraud in publications is more common in medical and pharmaceutical research than in the other fields. The author suggests that this may be due to the great magnitude of economic incentives for publications or to a greater degree of awareness in these areas.

There are, however, several factors that influence the crisis of replicability beyond the explicit falsification of the data. One of the most significant is the selectivity of publications: in general, positive and striking results have a greater potential to appear in journals and to provide recognition and money to researchers.


This is why the "drawer effect" often occurs, whereby Studies that do not support the expected hypotheses are discarded while those that do are selected by the authors and published more commonly. In addition, the non-replication of positive studies decreases the risk that hypotheses are refuted.

Other common practices that have similar objectives are to select a large number of variables and then focus only on those that correlate, change the sample size (for example, include subjects until the results are positive) or carry out multiple statistical analyzes. inform exclusively those who support the hypothesis.

Why is it so serious in psychology?

It is considered that the crisis of replication in psychology goes back to the first years of the decade of 2010. During this period numerous cases of fraud involving relevant authors ; For example, the social psychologist Diederik Stapel falsified the results of several publications

A meta-analysis by Makel, Plucker and Hegarty (2012) found that only about 1% of the studies on psychology published since the early twentieth century are replications of previous studies. This is a very low figure since it strongly suggests that many of the conclusions obtained by isolated studies can not be taken as definitive.

The number of successful independent replications is also low , standing at around 65%; instead, more than 90% of those made by the original research team corroborate the hypotheses. On the other hand, works with negative results are also especially uncommon in psychology; The same can be said about psychiatry.

Solutions to the crisis of research

The crisis of replicability in psychology and in science in general not only compromises the results of a large number of studies, but can lead to the legitimation of hypotheses that have not been confirmed with the necessary rigor.This could lead to the widespread use of incorrect hypotheses, altering the development of sciences.

Currently there are many economic interests (and others also related to prestige) that favor the replication crisis is maintained. While the criteria followed in the publication of studies and the dissemination of their results in large media continue to have this monetarist character, the situation can hardly change.

Most of the proposals that have been made to help solve this crisis are associated with the rigorous methodology in all its phases , as well as with the participation of other members of the scientific community; in this way, it would be to enhance the process of "peer-review" and seek to encourage replication efforts.

Concluding

We must bear in mind that in the field of psychology we work with many variables, on the one hand, and it is difficult to establish a context in which the starting point is similar to that of another study, on the other. This makes it very easy for elements that are not taken into account in the investigation to "contaminate" the results.

On the other hand, the limitations of the ways in which it is decided whether there are real phenomena or only statistical phenomena sometimes cause false positives: the simple fact that the p-value is significant does not have to be sufficient to indicate that it reflects a real psychological phenomenon.

Bibliographic references:

  • Fanelli, D. (2009). How many scientists fabricate and falsify research? A systematic review and meta-analysis of survey data. PLoS ONE 4 (5).
  • Makel, M.C., Plucker, J.A. & Hegarty, B. (2012). Replications in psychology research: how often do they really occur? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7 (6): 537-542.
  • Nosek, B.A., Spies, J. R. & Motyl, M. (2012). Scientific Utopia: II. Restructuring incentives and practices to promote truth over publishability. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7 (6): 615-631.

Have We Failed at Replication? A Panel Discussion Debate on Psychology's Replicability "Crisis" (June 2024).


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