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False-positive psychology: undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis allows presenting anything as significant.

Psychological Science

Young Adult, Statistics as Topic, standards, psychology, Research Personnel, Research Design, Publications, Practice Guidelines as Topic, Peer Review, Research, Humans, Data Interpretation, Statistical, Data Collection, Computer Simulation, Adult

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      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.

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