DON’T: Aim for significance. DO: Aim for precision

[From the recent working paper, “The statistical significance filter leads to overoptimistic expectations of replicability” by Vasishth, Mertzen, Jäger, and Gelman posted at PsyArXiv Preprints]
“…when power is low, using significance to decide whether to publish a result leads to a proliferation of exaggerated estimates in the literature. What is a reasonable alternative? …we can carry out a precision analysis (see chapter 13, Kruschke, 2014) before running an experiment to decide how much uncertainty of the estimate is acceptable. For example, a 95% credible interval of 40 ms is one option we chose in our final experiment, but this was only for illustration purposes; depending on the resources available, one could aim for even higher precision. For example, 184 participants in the Nicenboim et al. (2018) study had a 95% credible interval of 20 ms. Note that the goal here should not be to find an interval that does not include an effect of 0 ms; that would be identical to applying the statistical significance filter and is exactly the practice that we criticize in this paper. Rather, the goal is to achieve a particular precision level of the estimate.”
To read more, click here.

Should Science Do More Replications? It Depends

[From the recent working paper, “The Costs and Benefits of Replication Studies” by Coles, Tiokhin, Scheel, Isager, and Lakens, posted at]
“The debate about whether replication studies should become mainstream is essentially driven by disagreements about their costs and benefits, and the best ways to allocate limited resources. Determining when replications are worthwhile requires quantifying their expected utility. We argue that a formalized framework for such evaluations can be useful for both individual decision-making and collective discussions about replication.”
To read more, click here.

National Academies of Science-Funded Committee on Research Reproducibility Holds First Meeting

[From the article “National Academies Launches Study of Research Reproducibility and Replicability” by Will Thomas, posted at FYI: Science Policy News from AIP (American Institute of Physics)]
“On Dec. 12 and 13, the National Academies convened the first meeting of a new study committee on “Reproducibility and Replicability in Science.” The National Science Foundation is sponsoring the study, which is expected to take 18 months, to satisfy a provision in the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act signed into law in January.”
“…In recent years, researchers, journalists, and policymakers have homed in on the reproducibility and replicability (R&R) of research results as a window into the health of the scientific enterprise. Many of them have taken widespread failures to replicate experimental results and to reproduce conclusions from data as a sign that, at least in certain fields, researchers’ experimental and statistical methods have become unreliable. To encourage better practices, those working to address such issues have been pressing to make research more transparent and to reform professional incentives.”
To read more, click here.

Another Economics Journal To Publish Replication Studies

[From the article “Replication Studies” by David McMillan, Senior Editor of the journal Cogent Economics & Finance]
Cogent Economics & Finance recognises the importance of replication studies. As an indicator of this importance, we now welcome research papers that focus on replication and whose ultimate acceptance depends on the accuracy and thoroughness of the work rather than seeking a “new” result. Cogent Economics & Finance has introduced a new replication studies article type that can be selected upon submission. We hope this will foster a great appreciation of replication studies and their significance, a stronger culture of verification, validity and robustness checking and an encouragement to authors to engage with such work, debate and discuss the best approaches to replication work and understand that an outlet for work of this kind exists.”
To read more, click here.
To see an updated list of economics journals that state that they publish replication studies, click here.

More Evidence on How Control Variables Affect Statistical Significance

[From the working paper “Achieving Statistical Significance with Covariates and without Transparency” by Gabriel Lenz and Alexander Sanz]
“An important yet understudied area of researcher discretion is the use of covariates in statistical models. Researchers choose which covariates to include in statistical models and their choices affect the size and statistical significance of their estimates. How often does the statistical significance of published findings depend on nontransparent and potentially discretionary choices? We use newly available replication data to answer this question, focusing primarily on observational studies. In about 40%of studies, we find, statistical significance depended on covariate adjustments. The covariate adjustments lowered p-values to statistically significant levels, not primarily by increasing estimate precision, but by increasing the absolute value of researchers’ key effect estimates. In almost all cases, articles failed to reveal this fact.”
To read more, click here.

IN THE NEWS: Wired (December 29, 2017)

[From the article “The Replication Crisis in Science” by Shravan Vasishth at]
“There have been two distinct responses to the replication crisis – by instituting measures like registered reports and by making data openly available. But another group continues to remain in denial.”
To read more, click here.

REED: The Replication Crisis – A Single Replication Can Make a Big Difference

[This post is based on the paper, “A Primer on the ‘Reproducibility Crisis’ and Ways to Fix It” by the author]
In a previous post, I argued that lowering α from 0.05 to 0.005, as advocated by Benjamin et al. (2017) – henceforth B72 for the 72 coauthors on the paper, would do little to improve science’s reproducibility problem. Among other things, B72 argue that reducing α to 0.005 would reduce the “false positive rate” (FPR). A lower FPR would make it more likely that significant estimates in the literature represented real results. This, in turn, should result in a higher rate of reproducibility, directly addressing science’s reproducibility crisis. However, B72’s analysis ignores the role of publication bias; i.e., the preference of journals and researchers to report statistically significant results. As my previous post demonstrated, incorporating reasonable parameters for publication bias nullifies the FPR benefits of reducing α.
What, then, can be done to improve reproducibility? In this post, I return to B72’s FPR framework to demonstrate that replications offer much promise. In fact, a single replication has a sizeable effect on the FPR over a wide variety of parameter values.
Let α and β represent the rates of Type I and Type II error associated with a 5 percent significance level, with Power accordingly being given by (1-β).  Let ϕ be the prior probability that H0 is true. Consider a large number of “similar” studies, all exploring possible relationships between different x’s and y’s. Some of these relationships will really exist in the population, and some will not. ϕ is the probability that a randomly chosen study estimates a relationship where none really exists. ϕ is usefully transformed to Prior Odds, defined as Pr(H1)/Pr(H0) = (1- ϕ)/ϕ, where H1 and H0 correspond to the hypotheses that a real relationship exists and does not exist, respectively. B72 posit the following range of Prior Odds values as plausible for real-life research scenarios: (i) 1:40, (ii) 1:10, and (iii) 1:5.
We are now in position to define the False Positive Rate. Let ϕα be the probability that no relationship exists but Type I error nevertheless produces a significant finding. Let (1-ϕ)(1-β) be the probability that a relationship exists and the study has sufficient power to identify it. The percent of significant estimates in published studies for which there is no underlying, real relationship is thus given by
(1) False Positive Rate(FPR) = ϕα / [ϕα +(1-ϕ)(1-β)] .
Table 1 reports FPR values for different Prior Odds and Power values when α = 0.05.  The FPR values in the table range from 0.24 to 0.91. For example, given 1:10 odds that a studied effect is real, and assuming studies have Power equal to 0.50 – the same Power value that Christensen and Miguel (2017) assume in their analysis – the probability that a statistically significant finding is really a false positive is 50%. Alternatively, if we take a Power value of 0.20, which is about equal to the value that Ioannidis et al. (2017) report as the median value for empirical research in economics, the FPR rises to 71%.
Table 1 illustrates the reproducibility problem highlighted by B72. The combination of (i) many thousands of researchers searching for significant relationships, (ii) relatively small odds that any given study is estimating a relationship that really exists, and (iii) a 5% Type I error rate, results in the published literature reporting a large number of false positives, even without adding in publication bias. In particular, for reasonable parameter values, it is very plausible that over half of all published, statistically significant estimates represent null effects.
I use this framework to show what a difference a single replication can make. The FPR values in Table 1 present the updated probabilities (starting from ϕ) that an estimated relationship represents a true null effect after an original study is published that reports a significant finding. I call these “Initial FPR” values. Replication allows a further updating, with the new, updated probabilities depending on whether the replication is successful or unsucessful. These new, updated probabilities are given below.
(2a) Updated FPR(Replication Successful) ) = InitialFPR∙α / [InitialFPR∙α +(1-InitialFPR)∙(1-β)] .
(2b) Updated FPR(Replication Unsuccessful) ) = InitiailFPR∙(1-α) / [InitialFPR∙(1-α) +(1-InitialFPR)∙β] .
Table 2 reports the Updated FPR values, depending on whether a replication is successful or unsuccessful, with Initial FPR values roughly based on the values in Table 1. Note that Power refers to the power of the replication studies.
The Updated FPR values show what a difference a single replication can make. Suppose that the Initial FPR following the publication of a significant finding in the literature is 50%. A replication study is conducted using independent data drawn from the same population. If we assume the replication study has Power equal to 0.50, and if the replication fails to reproduce the significant finding of the original study, the FPR increases from 50% to 66%. However, if the replication study successfully replicates the original study, the FPR falls to 9%. In other words, following the replication, there is now a 91% probability that the finding represent a real effect in the population.
Table 2 demonstrates that replications have a sizeable effect on FPRs across a wide range of Power and Initial FPR values. In some cases, the effect is dramatic. For example, consider the case (Initial FPR = 0.80, Power = 0.80). In this case, a single, successful replication lowers the false positive rate from 80% to 20%.  As would be expected, the effects are largest for high-powered replication studies. But the effects are sizeable even when replication studies have relatively low power. For example, given (Initial FPR = 0.80, Power = 0.20), a successful replication lowers the FPR from 80% to 50%.
Up to now, we have ignored the role of publication bias. As noted above, publication bias greatly affects the FPR analysis of B72.  One might similarly ask how publication bias affects the analysis above. If we assume that publication bias is, in the words of Maniadis et al. (2017) “adversarial” – that is, the journals are more likely to publish a replication study if it can be shown to refute an original study – then it turns out that publication bias has virtually no effect on the values in Table 2.
This is most easily seen if we introduce publication bias to Equation (2a) above. Following Maniadis et al. (2017), let ω represent the decreased probability that a replication study reports a significant finding due to adversarial publication bias. Then if the probability of obtaining a significant finding given no real effect is InitialFPR∙α in the absence of publication bias, the associated probability with publication bias will be InitialFPR∙α∙(1-ω). Likewise, if the probability of obtaining a significant finding when a real effect exists is (1-InitialFPR)∙(1-β) in the absence of publication bias, the associated probability with publication bias will be (1-InitialFPR)∙(1-β)∙(1-ω). It follows that the Updated FPR from a successful replication given adversarial publication bias is given by
(3) Updated FPR(Replication Successful|Adversarial Publication Bias) = FPR∙α∙(1-ω) / [FPR∙α∙(1-ω) +(1-FPR)∙(1-β)∙(1-ω)] .
Note that the publication bias term in Equation (3), (1-ω), cancels out from the numerator and denominator, so that the Updated FPR in the event of a successful replication is unaffected. The calculation for unsuccessful replications is not quite as straightforward, but the result is very similar: the Updated FPR is little changed by the introduction of adversarial publication bias.
It needs to be pointed out that the analysis above refers to a special type of replication, one which reproduces the experimental conditions (data preparation, analytical procedures, etc.) of the original study, albeit using independent data drawn from an identical population. In fact, there are many types of replications. Figure 1 (see below) from Reed (2017) presents six different types of replications. The analysis above clearly does not apply to some of these.
For example, Power is an irrelevant concept in a Type 1 replication study, since this type of replication (“Reproduction”) is nothing more than a checking exercise to ensure that numbers are correctly calculated and reported. The FPR calculations above are most appropriate for Type 3 replications, where identical procedures are applied to data drawn from the same population as the original study. The further replications deviate from a Type 3 model, the less applicable are the associated FPR values. Even so, the numbers in Table 2 are useful for illustrating the potential for replication to substantially alter the probability that a significant estimate represents a true relationship.
There is much debate about how to improve reproducibility in science. Pre-registration of research, publishing null findings, “badges” for data and code sharing, and results-free review have all received much attention in this debate. All of these deserve support. While replications have also received attention, this has not translated into a dramatic increase in the number of published replication studies (see here). The analysis above suggests that maybe, when it comes to replications, we should take a lead from the title of that country-western classic: “A Little Less Talk And A Lot More Action”.
Of course, all of the above ignores the debate around whether null hypothesis significance testing is an appropriate procedure for determining “replication success.” But that is a topic for another day.
Benjamin, D.J., Berger, J.O., Johannesson, M. Nosek, B.A., Wagenmakers, E.-J., Berk, R., …, Johnson, V.E. (2017). Redefine statistical significance. Nature Human Behaviour, 1(0189).
Christensen, G.S. and Miguel, E. (2016). Transparency, reproducibility, and the credibility of economics research. CEGA Working Paper Series No. WPS-065. Center for Effective Global Action. University of California, Berkeley.
Ioannidis, J.P., Doucouliagos, H. and Stanley, T. (2017). The power of bias in economics. Economic Journal 127(605): F236-65.
Maniadis, Z., Tufano, F., and List, J.A. (2017). To replicate or not to replicate? Exploring reproducibility in economics through the lens of a model and a pilot study. Economic Journal, 127(605): F209-F235.
Reed, W.R. (2017). A primer on the “reproducibility crisis” and ways to fix it. Working Paper No. 21/2017, Department of Economics and Finance, University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Reproducibility Making Progress at Science

[From the article, “Progress in Reproducibility” by Jeremy Berg, Editor-in-Chief  Science Journals, published in the 5 January 2018 issue of Science]
“Over the past year, we have retracted three papers previously published in Science. The circumstances of these retractions highlight some of the challenges connected to reproducibility policies. In one case, the authors failed to comply with an agreement to post the data underlying their study. Subsequent investigations concluded that one of the authors did not conduct the experiments as described and fabricated data. Here, the lack of compliance with the data-posting policy was associated with a much deeper issue and highlights one of the benefits of policies regarding data transparency. In a second case, some of the authors of a paper requested retraction after they could not reproduce the previously published results. Because all authors of the original paper did not agree with this conclusion, they decided to attempt additional experiments to try to resolve the issues. These reproducibility experiments did not conclusively confirm the original results, and the editors agreed that the paper should be retracted. This case again reveals some of the subtlety associated with reproducibility. In the final case, the authors retracted a paper over extensive and incompletely described variations in image processing. This emphasizes the importance of accurately presented primary data.”
“As this new year moves forward, the editors of Science hope for continued progress toward strong policies and cultural adjustments across research ecosystems that will facilitate greater transparency, research reproducibility, and trust in the robustness and self-correcting nature of scientific results.”
To read more, click here.

MURPHY: Quantifying the Role of Research Misconduct in the Failure to Replicate

[NOTE: This blog is based on the article “HARKing: How Badly Can Cherry-Picking and Question Trolling Produce Bias in Published Results?” by Kevin Murphy and Herman Aguinis, recently published in the Journal of Business and Psychology.]
The track record for replications in the social sciences is discouraging. There have been several recent papers documenting and commenting on the failure to replicate studies in economics and psychology (Chang & Li, 2015; Open Science Collaboration, 2015; Ortman, 2015; Pashler & Wagenmakers, 2012). This “reproducibility crisis” has simulated a number of excellent methodological papers documenting the many reasons for the failure to replicate (Braver, Thoemmes & Rosenthal, 2014; Maxwell, 2014). In general, this literature has shown that a combination of low levels of statistical power and a continuing reliance on null hypothesis testing have contributed substantially to the apparent failure of many studies to replicate, but there is a lingering suspicion that research misconduct plays a role in the widespread failure to replicate.
Out-and-out fraud in research has been reported in a number of fields; Ben-Yehuda and Oliver-Lumerman (2017) have chronicled nearly 750 cases of research fraud between 1880 and 2010 involving fabrication and falsification of data, misrepresentation of research methods and results and plagiarism. Their work has helped to identify the roles of institutional factors in research fraud (e.g., a large percentage of the cases examined involved externally funded research at elite institutions) as well as identifying ways of detecting and responding to fraud. This type of fraud appears to represent only a small proportion of the studies that are published, and since many of the known frauds have been perpetrated by the same individuals, the proportion of genuinely fraudulent researchers may be even smaller.
A more worrisome possibility is that researcher behaviors that fall short of outright fraud may nevertheless bias the outcomes of published research in ways that will make replication less likely. In particular, there is a good deal of evidence that a significant proportion of researchers engage in behaviors such as HARKing (posing “hypotheses” after the results of a study are known) or p-hacking (combing through or accumulating results until you find statistical significance) (Bedeian, Taylor & Miller, 2010; Head, Holman, Lanfear, Kahn & Jennions, 2015; John, Loewenstein & Prelec, 2012). These practices have the potential to bias results because they involve a systematic effort to find and report only the strongest results, which will of course make it less likely that subsequent studies in these same areas will replicate well.
Although it is widely recognized that author misconduct, such as HARKing, can bias the results of published studied (and therefore make replication more difficult), it has proved surprisingly difficult to determine how badly HARKing actually influences research results.
There are two reasons for this. First, HARKing might include a wide range of behaviors, from post-hoc analyses that are clearly labelled as such to unrestricted data mining in search for something significant to pubish, and different types of HARKing might have quite different effects. Second, authors usually do not disclose that the results they are submitting for publication are the result of HARKing, and there is rarely a definitive test for HARKing [O’Boyle, Banks & Gonzalez-Mulé (2017) were able to evaluate HARKing on an individual basis by comparing the hypotheses posed in dissertations with those reported in published articles based on the same work, and they suggested that in the majority of the cases they examined, there was considerably more alignment between results and hypotheses in published papers than in dissertations, presumably as a result of post-hoc editing of hypotheses].
In a recent paper Herman Aguinis and I published in Journal of Business and Psychology (see here), we suggested that simulation methods could be useful for assessing the likely impact of HARKing on the cumulative findings of a body of research. In particular, we used simulation methods to try and capture what it is authors actually do when they HARK. Our review of research on HARKing suggested that two particular types of behavior are both widespread and potentially worrisome. First, some authors decide on a research question, then scan results from several samples, statistical tests, or operationalizations of their key variables, selecting the strongest effects for publication. This type of cherry picking does not invent new hypotheses after the data have been collected, but rather samples the data that have been obtained to obtain the best case for a particular hypothesis. Other authors, scan results from different studies, samples, analyses etc. that involve some range of variables, and decide after looking at the data which relationships look strongest, then write up their research as if they had hypothesied this relationship all along. This form of question trolling is potentially more worrisome than cherry picking because these researchers allow the data to tell them what their research question should be rather than using the research question to determine what sort of data should be collected and examined.
We wrote simulations that mimicked these two types of author behaviors to determine how much bias these behaviors might introduce. Because both cherry picking and question trolling represent choosing the strongest results for publication, they are both likely to introduce some biases (and the make the likelihood of subsequent replications lower). Our results suggest that cherry picking introduces relatively small biases, but because the effects reported in the behavioral and social sciences are often quite small (Bosco, Aguinis, Singh, Field & Pierce, 2015), cherry picking can create a substantially boost in the relative size of effect size estimates. Question trolling has the potential to create biases that are sizable in both an absolute and a relative sense.
Our simulations suggest that the effects of HARKing a cumulative literature can be surprisingly complex. They depend on the prevalence of HARKing, the type of HARKing involved and the size and homogeneity of the pool of results the researcher consults before deciding what his or her “hypothesis” actually is.
Professor Kevin Murphy holds the Kemmy Chair of Work and Employment Studies at the University of Limerick. He can be contacted at
Bedeian, A. G., Taylor, S. G., & Miller, A. N. (2010). Management science on the credibility bubble: Cardinal sins and various misdemeanors. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 9, 715-725.
Ben-Yehuda, N. & Oliver-Lumerman, A. (2017). Fraud and Misconduct in Research: Detection, Investigation and Organizational Response.  University of Michigan Press.
Bosco, F. A., Aguinis, H., Singh, K., Field, J. G., & Pierce, C. A. (2015). Correlational effect size benchmarks. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100, 431–449.
Braver, S. L., Thoemmes, F. J., & Rosenthal, R. (2014). Continuously cumulating meta-analysis and replicability. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9, 333–342. doi:10.1177/1745691614529796
Chang, A. C., & Li, P. (2015). Is Economics Research Replicable? Sixty Published Papers from Thirteen Journals Say ”Usually Not”,” Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2015-083.
Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, doi:10.17016/FEDS.2015.083
Head, M.L., Holman, L., Lanfear, R., Kahn, A.T. & Jennions, M.D. (2015). The Extent and Consequences of P-Hacking in Science. PLOS Biology,
John, L. K., Loewenstein, G., & Prelec, D. (2012). Measuring the prevalence of questionable research practices with incentives for truth-telling. Psychological Science, 23, 524-532.
Maxwell, S. E. (2004). The persistence of underpowered studies in psychological research: Causes, consequences, and remedies. Psychological Methods, 9, 147–163. doi:10.1037/1082- 989X.9.2.147
O’Boyle, E. H., Banks, G. C., & Gonzalez-Mulé, E. (2017). The chrysalis effect: How ugly initial results metamorphosize into beautiful articles. Journal of Management, 43, NPi. 0149206314527133.
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Ortmann, A. (2015, November 2). The replication crisis has engulfed economics. Retrieved from
Pashler, H., & Wagenmakers, E. J. (2012). Editors’ introduction to the special section on replicability in psychological science: A crisis of confidence? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 528–530. doi:10.1177/1745691612465253

Not Everybody Thinks the Emphasis on Reproducibility is a Good Thing

[From the article “Reproducible research: a minority opinion” by Chris Drummond, published in the Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence.]
“Reproducible research, a growing movement within many scientific fields, including machine learning, would require the code, used to generate the experimental results, be published along with any paper. …This viewpoint is becoming ubiquitous but here I offer a differing opinion. I argue that far from being central to science, what is being promulgated is a narrow interpretation of how science works. I contend that the consequences are somewhat overstated. I would also contend that the effort necessary to meet the movement’s aims, and the general attitude it engenders would not serve well any of the research disciplines, including our own.”
“Let me sketch my response here:
– Reproducibility, at least in the form proposed, is not now, nor has it ever been, an essential part of science.
– The idea of a single well-defined scientific method resulting in an incremental, and cumulative, scientific process is, at the very best, moot.
– Requiring the submission of data and code will encourage a level of distrust among researchers and promote the acceptance of papers based on narrow technical criteria.
– Misconduct has always been part of science with surprisingly little consequence. The public’s distrust is likely more to with the apparent variability of scientific conclusions.”
To read more, click here (but note the full article is behind a paywall).