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Analysis of over 1,000 research papers show that US human behavior scientists more likely to exaggerate results

Posted: August 27, 2013 |   Comments

( An analysis of more than 1,000 psychiatry and genetics research papers has shown that scientists who study human behavior are more likely to report exaggerated or eye-catching results if they are based in the United States. According to the researchers who performed the analysis, one explanation of this phenomenon could be that the research culture in the US tends to reward scientists based on the novelty and immediate impact of their work rather than the quality or its long-term contribution to the field. They have thus called this trend the "US effect."

"We don't know what causes the US effect but we think the most likely explanation is that it's about the research environment in the US," Daniele Fanelli, one of the authors of the analysis from the University of Edinburgh, said. "Somehow the researchers there are subtly more pressured than elsewhere in the world to make strong discoveries. This very idea that you do science to make strong discoveries is natural but it's a problem to science itself. Science should be about doing good, precise studies. Not necessarily about getting exciting new results every time."

According to Fanelli, working in a research environment where careers depend on publishing the most exciting and strongest results might unconsciously draw researchers to exaggerate their findings. He adds that the US "should re-think the way they are rewarding researchers. They shouldn't reward researchers only because they get a lot of papers in a lot of high-ranking journals. They should reward research that is methodologically highly accurate."

The US effect isn't significantly huge though. Studies on the efficacy of drugs, for example, when performed with a US-based lead author, tend to have results that indicate effects 5% stronger than in other countries. The scientists who performed the study are worried that the "US effect" is likely to spread to other countries, particularly in Europe. Fanelli says that it is up to research funders to correct this problem and hopes the National Institutes of Health and other US funding agencies consider his research carefully.

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