Raise Your Hand If You’ve Messed Up

[Excerpts taken from the article “When We’re Wrong, It’s Our Responsibility as Scientists to Say So” by  Ariella Kristal et al., published in Scientific American.]
“What simple, costless interventions can we use to try to reduce tax fraud? As behavioral scientists, we tried to answer this question using what we already know from psychology: People want to see themselves as good.”
“…we thought that by reminding people of being truthful before reporting their income, they would be more honest. Building on this idea, in 2012, we came up with a seemingly costless simple intervention: Get people to sign a tax or insurance audit form before they reported critical information (versus after, the common business practice).”
“While our original set of studies found that this intervention worked in the lab and in one field experiment, we no longer believe that signing before versus after is a simple costless fix….Seven years and hundreds of citations and media mentions later, we want to update the record.”
“Based on research we recently conducted—with a larger number of people—we found abundant evidence that signing a veracity statement at the beginning of a form does not increase honesty compared to signing at the end.”
“Why are we updating the record? In an attempt to replicate and extend our original findings, three people on our team (Kristal, Whillans and Bazerman) found no evidence for the observed effects across five studies with 4,559 participants.”
”We brought the original team together and reran an identical lab experiment from the original paper (Experiment 1). The only thing we changed was the sample size: we had 20 times more participants per condition. And we found no difference in the amount of cheating between signing at the top of the form and signing at the bottom.”
“This matters because governments worldwide have spent considerable money and time trying to put this intervention into practice with limited success.”
“We also hope that this collaboration serves as a positive example, whereby upon learning that something they had been promoting for nearly a decade may not be true, the original authors confronted the issue directly by running new and more rigorous studies, and the original journal was open to publishing a new peer-reviewed article documenting the correction.”
“We believe that incentives need to continue to change in research, such that researchers are able to publish what they find and that the rigor and usefulness of their results, not their sensationalism, is what is rewarded.”
To read the article, click here.

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