The psychology research field has long suffered from a "replication crisis." Many peer-reviewed scientific papers report results that others can't replicate, calling into question the validity of the original research. The "replication crisis" has spread to other scientific fields as well. Worse, a new study shows that "published papers in top psychology, economics, and general interest journals that fail to replicate are cited more than those that replicate" even after the failings have been published. So why is bad science often more appealing, even to other scientists, than good science? Because it's more "interesting," according to the UC San Diego study. From Scientific American:
A potential explanation for these findings involves a two-edged sword. Academics valorize novelty: new findings, new results, "cutting-edge" and "disruptive" research. On one level this makes sense. If science is a process of discovery, then papers that offer new and surprising things are more likely to represent a possible big advance than papers that strengthen the foundations of existing knowledge or modestly extend its domain of applicability. Moreover, both academics and laypeople experience surprises as more interesting (and certainly more entertaining) than the predictable, the normal and the quotidian. No editor wants to be the one who rejects a paper that later becomes the basis of a Nobel Prize. The problem is that surprising results are surprising because they go against what experience has led us to believe so far, which means that there's a good chance they're wrong.
The authors of the citation study theorize that reviewers and editors apply lower standards to "showy" or dramatic papers than to those that incrementally advance the field and that highly interesting papers attract more attention, discussion and citations. In other words, there is a bias in favor of novelty.
"Nonreplicable publications are cited more than replicable ones" (Science Advances)
image: 1848 edition of American Phrenological Journal (public domain)