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Do we know what we think we know?

Geoff Ferguson - September 9th 2015

One characteristic of the scientific approach is that its findings can be reproduced. It should be possible to replicate the results of a study using the same materials, techniques and levels of skill as the original. We tend to accept positive results from a scientific study as true statements about the world.

psych experiment

In a project by the Center for Open Science, 270 psychologists tried to reproduce the results of 100 psychology studies, all of which had previously been published in prestigious journals. The project took great care to replicate the published studies exactly and in some cases involved the original researchers. Despite these steps the Reproducibility Project could only find a statistically significant effect in 36% of these reproduced studies, compared to 97% in the published originals.

The fact that a result could not be replicated does not necessarily mean that the original results were incorrect. There could be several unknown factors which effect a study’s outcome, especially in a field such as psychology. The researchers from the Reproducibility Project suggest ‘publication, selection, and reporting biases' as part of the explanation for these differences. They note that journals have a bias towards reporting innovative work with positive outcomes; work which reproduces previous studies or which has negative findings has a harder job being published.

Studies such as this one from the Center for Open Science are a positive step in critically evaluating our assumptions, assumptions which may be based upon a handful of studies. We have a strong desire for certainties, but live in a world which is very complicated and uncertain. As the authors of this current study state…

'This project…suggests that there is still more work to do to verify whether we know what we think we know.'

The study by the Reproducibility Project is published in Science and can be accessed here.

The above image is taken from 'I Hate It', a Flickr album recording a contemporary recreation of the Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures.



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Welcome to ourNews, where we keep up-to-date with research and other news related to infant mental health. These articles can be of interest to both parents and professionals.
We are keen to know your views and so please do comment on our articles.
Is there a topic that you would like us to write about? Just send us a message via 'Contact us'.

ourAdvice, our other blog, has brief posts with advice for parents.

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