According to a new analysis, with so many scientific papers and so few pages available in the most prestigious journals, the “winners” could be the ones most likely to oversell themselves rather than the best science. In other words, they are likely to be the ones that trumpet dramatic or important results -- results that often later turn out to be false.
Hundreds of thousands of scientific researchers are hired, promoted and funded according not only to how much work they produce, but also to where it gets published. Prestigious journals boast that they are very selective, turning down the vast majority of papers that are submitted to them. The assumption is that they therefore publish only the best scientific work.
A study of 49 papers in leading journals that had been cited by more than 1,000 other scientists -- in other words, well-regarded research -- showed that within only a few years, almost a third of the papers had been refuted by other studies. And the “hotter” the field, the greater the competition and the more likely it is that published research in top journals could be wrong.
There also seems to be a bias towards publishing positive results. A study earlier this year found that among the studies submitted to the FDA about the effectiveness of antidepressants, almost all of those with positive results were published, whereas very few of those with negative results were.