Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Revealed: authors who doctored study findings for press coverage

James Beck, co-founder of the research group that published a groundbreaking study into honesty last month, has accused some of his own researchers of having padded their reported findings.

Beck’s group found that people who dislike people who lie tend to be more honest and that singletons tend to be more honest than married people.

The group presented its findings in a paper entitled “Opt-Inism and Boredom Can Help You Find Love”, with the participants each completing an essay about the characteristics of the opposite sex. It was the first study to look into these perceptions and find a link between them.

The results were based on an analysis of the four most commonly used words in the written essay – the adjectives “helpful”, “kind” and “intelligent”. Participants were then asked how much truthfulness they felt the essay had been.

Beck’s group was later accused of tweaking the survey to manipulate results when the authors said that people who had been invited to write in their own voice did not respond accurately to the questions.

But now Beck, professor of psychology at the University of Houston, has admitted that certain questions asked by his group to the volunteers were over-ruled by other team members.

The paper contained both manipulated data and unaltered data – many of the claims had been used by other researchers on similar research projects around the world in the previous six years, Beck said.

He added that many of the claims made in the paper had already been published by other research teams and now appear to be invalid.

“We wanted the authors to publish the results under their name,” he said. “We trusted them; but they were not perfect. What I have asked them is to demonstrate on behalf of the literature, under review by an expert reviewer, that what they are claiming is valid.”

Beck criticised the Guardian for publishing last month’s version of the story, labelling it a “scam story”.

“The Guardian was cynically publishing this story as a piece of clickbait journalism; I can’t say for sure that it was just ‘made up’ by people with no interest in the integrity of the science.”

“People can appreciate a story that just says, ‘A new study suggests there are more liars than truthtellers’. What people who write critically or scientifically, especially in the world of science, are being accused of is just not being particularly intelligent or a cynic,” he said.

“But what I will say is that I am happy to have a lively discussion about it – I think there are good arguments on both sides of this – but I just would not want anyone to be put off the study.”

Beck also revealed that he personally had “weighed in” on the wording of some of the questions asked in the paper’s first analysis, but declined to specify why.

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