A Decade of Impact | 2023 Impact Report

A Dysfunctional Reward System

How do you develop a realistic, behaviorally informed implementation strategy to get the culture to change? How can you restructure the system and enable people to live and practice according to the values they have they come into science for in the first place?
Brian NosekBrian Nosek
Executive Director
Center for Open Science

The current academic publishing system rewards novelty. Researchers quickly learn they are not rewarded for accurate and credible findings as much as they are for new and positive research. This can create a conflict of interest between truth and career advancement. The system undermines the credibility of evidence and core values of science as a constantly self-skeptical and self-correcting enterprise.

The Publishing Conundrum

A key culprit behind this dysfunctional system is that academic career advancement hinges on frequent publication. High-impact journals prioritize positive results, promising breakthroughs, and exciting headlines. The system relegates negative findings to the shadows, often overlooks existing work, and sees replication as unuseful.

Publishing positive results takes precedence over negative ones, and researchers prioritize uncovering something new rather than reinforcing previous findings. Replicating others' work is not rewarded and does not generate novel findings, which leads to little motivation for researchers. Similarly, self-replication lacks incentive because of the risks of losing established findings. While not intentionally deceptive, this system creates a conflict where rationalization can overshadow sound reasoning, disincentivizing transparency and uncertainty.

The consequences of this distorted system are far-reaching. The published literature, skewed towards positive findings, paints an exaggerated picture of the evidence. Lack of replication leaves unverified claims unchallenged, potentially producing overconfidence in their veracity. How can we transform this dysfunctional system? It requires a fundamental shift in the incentive structure. By embracing open practices, we can align transparency, rigor, and genuine scientific progress with the rewards for research advancement.

The Path to Transformation

Changing the research culture requires tackling the very nature of the system. A decentralized system such as academic publishing needs a strategy that aligns the many stakeholders that shape the reward system. A unified approach that values transparency, replication, and reform of editorial practices can cultivate meaningful improvement in the research culture.