[S]ince academic success is determined almost exclusively by the number and prestige of research publications, the incentives to generate results are exceedingly powerful and can encourage investigators to see patterns that may not exist, to disregard contradictory observations that might be important, to overvalue data that might be preliminary or unreliable, and to embrace conclusions that deserve to be viewed with far greater skepticism.Shaywirtz ends with these words of wisdom:
Does all this mean the system is broken? Surprisingly, no. Ultimately, science tends to be self-correcting, and flawed ideas are eventually recognized and disregarded. There really does seem to be a marketplace of ideas, and many good ideas eventually gain traction and persist, while many attractive but incorrect hypotheses eventually fall under the weight of compelling evidence. The system is far from perfect -- especially with regard to the exploitation of the most junior (and most vulnerable) researchers, who support much of this ecosystem -- but like capitalism, it may represent the best available option.
Researchers are unlikely to become less self-serving -- just as reporters are unlikely to become less opportunistic in their hunt for news. Ultimately, it is up to each of us to develop a more skeptical ear, to approach received wisdom cautiously and to pay more attention to data than to narrative.
Only by discovering our inner scientist can we fully delight in the hope of new research without being seduced by its charms.