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.Yep; I've been there, seen it and done it.
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".
"As long as the incentives are in place that reward publishing novel, surprising results, often and in high-visibility journals above other, more nuanced aspects of science, shoddy practices that maximise one's ability to do so will run rampant," Smaldino told Hannah Devlin at The Guardian.
. . .
"Scientists are just humans, and if organisations are dumb enough to rate them on sales figures, they will do discounts to reach the targets, just like any other sales person."
And this doesn't even begin to cover the effect of relentless politicization of science, where scientists are rewarded for confirming the biases of government toadies who dole out the grant money necessary for a successful research career, most of whom would have been unable carry out a research project.