Negative Results Are Ignored
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An experiment will give you either a positive result ("Just as I thought, my car has a flat tire") or a negative result ("My tire's fine, but I have bad news for my dog-owning neighbor"). It's estimated that no more than 10 percent of hypotheses should be supported. So why do experiments touting positive results make up 70 to 90 percent of all published papers? Are modern scientists mutants with the power to generate facts?
20th Century Fox "Eighteen is greater than 7! Fact Man, awaaaaaaaaay!"
Sadly, no. The majority of papers contain positive results because that's what publishing companies want. No one wants to read about dozens of weight-loss drugs that made test subjects gain 10 pounds and a third nipple -- they want to read about the one that will get them back in their swimsuits.
This incredibly common practice is called publication bias, and like trained mice, some scientists have adapted to it with "p-hacking." That sounds gross, but it's essentially testing one hypothesis over and over again until you get a positive result. It's dishonest and irresponsible, but the more papers you publish the more likely you are to get grants, jobs, tenure, and science groupies.
Which leads to more falsified data, like, "Best I've ever had!" and, "It's so big!"
How This Affects You
Anyone who uses medication can fall victim to this problem. Only papers stating that a drug works are published, while studies that find a negative result are locked in the attic and neglected like a NordicTrack. This leads to doctors falsely believing a drug is fantastic because all they can read are rave reviews, when in reality it may be no more effective than a handful of crystals and positive thought.
TongRo Images/TongRo Images/Getty Images "I can feel my quantum indigo chakra toxins flowing out of me!"