Competition for priority harms the reliability of science but reforms can help

Leonid Tiokhin (Corresponding author), Thomas J.H. Morgan, Minhua Yan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Incentives for priority of discovery are hypothesized to harm scientific reliability. Here, we evaluate this hypothesis by developing
an evolutionary agent-based model of a competitive scientific process. We find that rewarding priority of discovery causes
populations to culturally evolve towards conducting research with smaller samples. This reduces research reliability and the
information value of the average study. Increased start-up costs for setting up single studies and increased payoffs for secondary
results (also known as scoop protection) attenuate the negative effects of competition. Furthermore, large rewards for
negative results promote the evolution of smaller sample sizes. Our results confirm the logical coherence of scoop protection
reforms at several journals. Our results also imply that reforms to increase scientific efficiency, such as rapid journal turnaround
times, may produce collateral damage by incentivizing lower-quality research; in contrast, reforms that increase start-up costs,
such as pre-registration and registered reports, may generate incentives for higher-quality research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)857-867
Number of pages11
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


FundersFunder number
John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek452-17-013


    • meta-science
    • competition
    • agent-based model
    • incentives
    • recognition and rewards


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