Feature

The truth squad

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Science  21 Sep 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6408, pp. 1189-1191
DOI: 10.1126/science.361.6408.1189

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Summary

Tilburg University in the Netherlands made headlines in 2011 when Diederik Stapel, a prominent psychologist and a dean, confessed to faking data for dozens of papers over 15 years. Since then, Tilburg has seen the birth of a metaresearch group that studies how scientists operate, and what can go wrong. Led by Marcel van Assen and Jelte Wicherts, they focus on questionable research practices, such as selective reporting of statistical tests, that help explain why many findings in psychology cannot be replicated. By scrutinizing the problems, metaresearchers aim to make science more rigorous and efficient. The Tilburg group became briefly notorious when it posted the results of an automated check for statistical mistakes on PubPeer, upsetting some scientists. They advocate for better practices, such as preregistering studies—declaring a plan for the research in advance, which can lessen the chance of dodgy analyses—and making the data behind research papers immediately available so others can check the findings. Ultimately, they and others say, the perverse incentives of careerist academia, to hoard data and sacrifice rigor for headline-generating findings, must be fixed.