The Decline Effect
But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants.
“According to Ioannidis, the main problem is that too many researchers engage in what he calls ‘significance chasing,’ or finding ways to interpret the data so that it passes the statistical test of significance—the ninety-five-per-cent boundary invented by Ronald Fisher. ‘The scientists are so eager to pass this magical test that they start playing around with the numbers, trying to find anything that seems worthy,’ Ioannidis says. In recent years, Ioannidis has become increasingly blunt about the pervasiveness of the problem. One of his most cited papers has a deliberately provocative title: ‘Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.’”
By Jonah Lehrer, The New Yorker