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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Sep 10;110(37):15031-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1302997110. Epub 2013 Aug 26.

US studies may overestimate effect sizes in softer research.

Author information

1
Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH1 1LZ, United Kingdom.

Abstract

Many biases affect scientific research, causing a waste of resources, posing a threat to human health, and hampering scientific progress. These problems are hypothesized to be worsened by lack of consensus on theories and methods, by selective publication processes, and by career systems too heavily oriented toward productivity, such as those adopted in the United States (US). Here, we extracted 1,174 primary outcomes appearing in 82 meta-analyses published in health-related biological and behavioral research sampled from the Web of Science categories Genetics & Heredity and Psychiatry and measured how individual results deviated from the overall summary effect size within their respective meta-analysis. We found that primary studies whose outcome included behavioral parameters were generally more likely to report extreme effects, and those with a corresponding author based in the US were more likely to deviate in the direction predicted by their experimental hypotheses, particularly when their outcome did not include additional biological parameters. Nonbehavioral studies showed no such "US effect" and were subject mainly to sampling variance and small-study effects, which were stronger for non-US countries. Although this latter finding could be interpreted as a publication bias against non-US authors, the US effect observed in behavioral research is unlikely to be generated by editorial biases. Behavioral studies have lower methodological consensus and higher noise, making US researchers potentially more likely to express an underlying propensity to report strong and significant findings.

KEYWORDS:

publish or perish; questionable research practices; research bias; scientific misconduct; soft science

PMID:
23980165
PMCID:
PMC3773789
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1302997110
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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