What to Do If You Are Accused of P-Hacking

In a recent post on Data Colada, University of Pennsylvania Professor Uri Simonsohn discusses what do in the event you (a researcher) are accused of having altered your data to increase statistical significance.

Simonsohn states:

It has become more common to publicly speculate, upon noticing a paper with unusual analyses, that a reported finding was obtained via p-hacking.

For example “a Slate.com post by Andrew Gelman suspected p-hacking in a paper that collected data on 10 colors of clothing, but analyzed red & pink as a single color” [.html] (see authors’ response to the accusation .html) or “a statistics blog suspected p-hacking after noticing a paper studying number of hurricane deaths relied on the somewhat unusual Negative-Binomial Regression” [.html].

Instinctively, Simonsohn says, a researcher may react to accusations of p-hacking by attempting to justify the specifics of his/her research design but if that justification is ex-post, the explanation will not be good enough. In fact:

P-hacked findings are by definition justifiable. Unjustifiable research practices involve incompetence or fraud, not p-hacking.


First Swedish Graduate Student Training in Transparency in the Social Sciences

Guest Post by Anja Tolonen (University of Gothenburg, Sweden)

(PHOTO CREDIT: www.gu.se)


Seventeen excited graduate students in Economics met at the University of Gothenburg, a Monday in September, to initiate an ongoing discussion about transparency practices in Economics. The students came from all over the world: from Kenya, Romania, Hong Kong, Australia and Sweden of course. The initiative itself also came from across an ocean too: Berkeley, California. The students had different interests within Economics: many of us focus on Environmental or Development Economics but there were also Financial Economists and Macroeconomists present.

The teaching material, which was mostly based on material from the first Summer Institute, organized by BITSS in June 2014, quickly prompted many questions. “Is it feasible to pre-register analysis on survey data?”, “Are graduate students more at risk of P-hacking than their senior peers?”, “Are some problems intrinsic to the publishing industry?” and “Does this really relate to my field?” several students asked. Some students think yes:


Scientific consensus has gotten a bad reputation—and it doesn’t deserve it

In a recent post, Senior science editor at Ars TechnicaJohn Timmer defends the importance of consensus.

Opening with the following quote from author Michael Crichton:

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results.

Timmer defends the importance of consensus pointing out:

Reproducible results are absolutely relevant. What Crichton is missing is how we decide that those results are significant and how one investigator goes about convincing everyone that he or she happens to be right. This comes down to what the scientific community as a whole accepts as evidence. (more…)

The 10 Things Every Grad Student Should Do

In a recent post on the Data Pub blog, Carly Strasser provides a useful transparency guide for newcomers to the world of empirical research. Below is an adapted version of that post. 

1. Learn to code in some language. Any language.

Strasser begins her list urging students to learn a programming language. As the limitations of statistical packages including STATA, SAS and SPSS become increasingly apparent, empirical social scientists are beginning to learn languages such as MATLAB, R and Python. Strasser comments:

Growing amounts and diversity of data, more interdisciplinary collaborators, and increasing complexity of analyses mean that no longer can black-box models, software, and applications be used in research.

Start learning to code now so you are not behind the curve later!

2. Stop using Excel. Or at least stop ONLY using Excel.

In Excel modifying data is done without a trace. This makes documenting changes made to a dataset more difficult and prevents researchers using Excel from producing fully replicable research. Read “Potentially Problematic Excel Features” to learn more about the pitfalls of Excel.


Teaching Integrity in Empirical Research

Richard Ball (Economics Professor at Haverford College and presenter at the 2014 BITSS Summer Institute) and Norm Medeiros (Associate Librarian at Haverford College) in a recent interview appearing on  the Library of Congress based blog The Signal, discussed Project TIER (Teaching Integrity in Empirical Research) and their experience educating students how to document their empirical analysis.  

What is Project TIER

For close to a decade, we have been teaching our students how to assemble comprehensive documentation of the data management and analysis they do in the course of writing an original empirical research paper. Project TIER is an effort to reach out to instructors of undergraduate and graduate statistical methods classes in all the social sciences to share with them lessons we have learned from this experience.

What is the TIER documentation protocol?

We gradually developed detailed instructions describing all the components that should be included in the documentation and how they should be formatted and organized. We now refer to these instructions as the TIER documentation protocol. The protocol specifies a set of electronic files (including data, computer code and supporting information) that would be sufficient to allow an independent researcher to reproduce–easily and exactly–all the statistical results reported in the paper.


Reproducible Research: True or False?

Keynote speaker at the upcoming BITSS annual meeting John Ioannidis (Professor of Health Research and Policy at Stanford School of Medicine, and Co-Director of the Meta-Research Innovation Center) speaks at Google about its efforts to improve research designs standards and reproducibility in science. Ioannidis is the author of the 2005 highly influential paper Why Most Published Research Findings Are False, the most downloaded technical paper from the open access library PLOS.

The annual BITSS meeting will be held at UC Berkeley on December 11-12. You can find the agenda on the event page and register here.

Can Greater Transparency Lead to Better Social Science?

In a recent article on the Monkey Cage, professors Mike FindleyNathan JensenEdmund Malesky and Tom Pepinsky  discuss publication bias, the “file drawer problem” and how a special issue of the journal Comparative Political Studies will help address these problems. 

Similar to a recent article by Brendan Nyhan, reposted on the BITSS blog, the university professors writing the article assert:

[S]cholars may think strategically about what editors will want […] this means that “boring” findings, or findings that fail to support an author’s preferred hypotheses, are unlikely to be published — the so-called “file drawer problem.” More perniciously, it can incentivize scholars to hide known problems in their research or even encourage outright fraud, as evinced by the recent cases of psychologist Diederik Stapel and acoustician Peter Chen.

To address these problems, the authors of the article have worked with the journal for Comparative Political Studies to release a special edition in which:

[A]uthors will submit manuscripts with all mention of the results eliminated […] Other authors will submit manuscripts with full descriptions of research projects that have yet to be executed […] In both cases, reviewers and editors must judge manuscripts solely on the coherence of their theories, the quality of their design, the appropriateness of their empirical methods, and the importance of their research question.


All the latest on research transparency

Here you can find information about the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS), read and comment on opinion blog posts, learn about our annual meeting, find useful tools and resources, and contribute to the discussion by adding your voice.

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