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Shock to the System

Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College, calls for a change to how scientific studies are published in a column in the New York Times.

"The problem is that the research conducted using federal funds is driven — and distorted — by the academic publishing model. The intense competition for space in top journals creates strong pressures for novel, statistically significant effects," Nyhan says. "As a result, studies that do not turn out as planned or find no evidence of effects claimed in previous research often go unpublished, even though their findings can be important and informative."

Instead of the current model, he suggests that researchers should submit their study designs to journals for peer review and if the design is found to be sound, the journal would agree to publish the results after another round of peer review.

That way, Nyhan says, the incentive to publish only significant results will be diminished.

He notes, though, that getting researchers and journals to adopt his plan may be challenge. As an inducement there, he suggests that federal funding should be tied to encouraging researchers to publish in journals that adopt such models.

"Appropriately enough, the best way to encourage scientific innovation might be to rethink how we organize the scientific enterprise itself," Nyhan says.