Questionable research practices in ecology and evolution

PLoS One. 2018 Jul 16;13(7):e0200303. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200303. eCollection 2018.


We surveyed 807 researchers (494 ecologists and 313 evolutionary biologists) about their use of Questionable Research Practices (QRPs), including cherry picking statistically significant results, p hacking, and hypothesising after the results are known (HARKing). We also asked them to estimate the proportion of their colleagues that use each of these QRPs. Several of the QRPs were prevalent within the ecology and evolution research community. Across the two groups, we found 64% of surveyed researchers reported they had at least once failed to report results because they were not statistically significant (cherry picking); 42% had collected more data after inspecting whether results were statistically significant (a form of p hacking) and 51% had reported an unexpected finding as though it had been hypothesised from the start (HARKing). Such practices have been directly implicated in the low rates of reproducible results uncovered by recent large scale replication studies in psychology and other disciplines. The rates of QRPs found in this study are comparable with the rates seen in psychology, indicating that the reproducibility problems discovered in psychology are also likely to be present in ecology and evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecology*
  • Humans
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design
  • Research Personnel / statistics & numerical data
  • Research*
  • Scientific Misconduct / statistics & numerical data
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Grant support

Fiona Fidler is supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT150100297). T. Parker was supported by a sabbatical provided by Whitman College and was hosted by S. Griffith at Macquarie University.