What happened to Popperian falsification? Publishing neutral and negative findings: Moving away from biased publication practices

Arjen van Witteloostuijn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Purpose
– Current publication practices in the scholarly (International) Business and Management community are overwhelmingly anti-Popperian, which fundamentally frustrates the production of scientific progress. This is the result of at least five related biases: the verification, novelty, normal science, evidence, and market biases. As a result, no one is really interested in replicating anything. In this essay, the author extensively argues what he believes is wrong, why that is so, and what we might do about this. The paper aims to discuss these issues.

Design/methodology/approach
- This is an essay, combining a literature review with polemic argumentation.

Findings
– Only a tiny fraction of published studies involve a replication effort. Moreover, journal authors, editors, reviewers and readers are not interested in seeing nulls and negatives in print. This replication crisis implies that Popper’s critical falsification principle is actually thrown into the scientific community’s dustbin. Behind the façade of all these so-called new discoveries, false positives abound, as do questionable research practices meant to produce all this allegedly cutting-edge and groundbreaking significant findings. If this dismal state of affairs does not change for the good, (International) Business and Management research is ending up in a deadlock.

Research limitations/implications
– A radical cultural change in the scientific community, including (International) Business and Management, is badly needed. It should be in the community’s DNA to engage in the quest for the “truth” – nothing more, nothing less. Such a change must involve all stakeholders: scholars, editors, reviewers, and students, but also funding agencies, research institutes, university presidents, faculty deans, department chairs, journalists, policymakers, and publishers. In the words of Ioannidis (2012, p. 647): “Safeguarding scientific principles is not something to be done once and for all. It is a challenge that needs to be met successfully on a daily basis both by single scientists and the whole scientific establishment.”

Practical implications
– Publication practices have to change radically. For instance, editorial policies should dispose of their current overly dominant pro-novelty and pro-positives biases, and explicitly encourage the publication of replication studies, including failed and unsuccessful ones that report null and negative findings.

Originality/value
– This is an explicit plea to change the way the scientific research community operates, offering a series of concrete recommendations what to do before it is too late.
Original languageEnglish
Article number23
Pages (from-to)481-508
JournalCross-Cultural and Strategic Management
Volume23
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Keywords

  • replication
  • falsification
  • publication bias
  • research malpractices

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