False-positive psychology: undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis allows presenting anything as significant

Psychol Sci. 2011 Nov;22(11):1359-66. doi: 10.1177/0956797611417632. Epub 2011 Oct 17.


In this article, we accomplish two things. First, we show that despite empirical psychologists' nominal endorsement of a low rate of false-positive findings (≤ .05), flexibility in data collection, analysis, and reporting dramatically increases actual false-positive rates. In many cases, a researcher is more likely to falsely find evidence that an effect exists than to correctly find evidence that it does not. We present computer simulations and a pair of actual experiments that demonstrate how unacceptably easy it is to accumulate (and report) statistically significant evidence for a false hypothesis. Second, we suggest a simple, low-cost, and straightforwardly effective disclosure-based solution to this problem. The solution involves six concrete requirements for authors and four guidelines for reviewers, all of which impose a minimal burden on the publication process.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Computer Simulation
  • Data Collection / standards*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Humans
  • Peer Review, Research / standards
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Publications / standards*
  • Research Design / standards*
  • Research Personnel / psychology
  • Research Personnel / standards*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Young Adult