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False-Positive Psychology: Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant

8 Pages Posted: 24 May 2011 Last revised: 29 Mar 2017

Joseph P. Simmons

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Leif D. Nelson

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business

Uri Simonsohn

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Date Written: May 23, 2011

Abstract

In this article, we accomplish two things. First, we show that despite empirical psychologists’ nominal endorsement of a low rate of false-positive findings (≤ .05), flexibility in data collection, analysis, and reporting dramatically increases actual false-positive rates. In many cases, a researcher is more likely to falsely find evidence that an effect exists than to correctly find evidence that it does not. We present computer simulations and a pair of actual experiments that demonstrate how unacceptably easy it is to accumulate (and report) statistically significant evidence for a false hypothesis. Second, we suggest a simple, low-cost, and straightforwardly effective disclosure-based solution to this problem. The solution involves six concrete requirements for authors and four guidelines for reviewers, all of which impose a minimal burden on the publication process.

Keywords: Methodology, Motivated Reasoning, Publication, Disclosure

Suggested Citation

Simmons, Joseph P. and Nelson, Leif D. and Simonsohn, Uri, False-Positive Psychology: Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant (May 23, 2011). Psychological Science, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1850704

Joseph Simmons (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3733 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6374
United States

Leif Nelson

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business ( email )

545 Student Services Building, #1900
2220 Piedmont Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Uri Simonsohn

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
JMHH 500
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

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