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Science, Statistics, and Deception

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▸Requests for reprints should be addressed to John C. Bailar III, M.D., Ph.D.; 468 N Street, S.W.; Washington, DC 20024.

Washington, D.C.

Ann Intern Med. 1986;104(2):259-260. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-104-2-259
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Some common scientific practices cannot quite be called lying, though they are potentially, and sometimes deliberately, deceptive. Some examples are the failure to explain to readers all the weaknesses in data, statistical testing of post hoc hypotheses, fragmentary or selective reporting of findings, and reporting as "negative" a study that had insufficient chance of detecting an effect. The first step toward controlling potential problems is a redefinition of ethical standards to bar readily avoidable as well as deliberate deception. Other remedies include substantially greater restraint in the use of questionable practices, full disclosure and justification each time these practices are used, and greater skepticism by readers. Pressures to publish tend to promote deception. A broadened concept of ethical standards in science should be reflected in training programs and in the structure of scientific rewards, including a sharply reduced emphasis on publication as an end in itself.







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