Perverse incentives

From The Embassy of Good Science

Perverse incentives

What is this about?

Sometimes scientists can be faced with incentives that run counter to good science. For instance, in order to obtain a journal publication that will get them a grant or a promotion, scientists may be incentivised to exaggerate their findings, or even to drop out data points that do not fit a hypothesis. Some believe that the evaluation of scientists based on metrics alone (IF of journal publications, h-index, etc.) can encourage sloppy science or outright misconduct.

Journals, peer reviewers, universities, and funding agencies may also be confronted with incentives that do not promote good science.

Why is this important?

It is important that scientists are incentivized to do good science and be good scientists. This means that, as much as possible, good science should be rewarded. If not, then it may not be realistic to expect a culture that fosters research integrity, nor to expect a lasting solution to problems of reproducibility. Moreover, should institutions and journals keep perverse incentives in place, it may not be fair to individual scientists to hold them only responsible for undesirable scientific outcomes.

For whom is this important?

What are the best practices?

How to reform the incentive structure of science is a subject of ongoing research and debate. See, e.g.,

  • Bornmann, L., & Williams, R. (2017). Can the journal impact factor be used as a criterion for the selection of junior researchers? A large-scale empirical study based on ResearcherID data. Journal of Informetrics, 11(3), 788–799. doi:10.1016/j.joi.2017.06.001
  • Krimsky, S. (2004). Science in the Private Interest: Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted Biomedical Research? Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Sandström, U., & Van den Besselaar, P. (2018). Funding, evaluation, and the performance of national research systems. Journal of Informetrics, 12(1), 365–384. doi:10.1016/j.joi.2018.01.007