Skip to Content
Uncategorized

On Negative Results

There’s a very interesting article by John Ioannidis in PLoS Medicine, the free online journal. Most current published research findings might well be false, he says. There are several factors, and I think it’s worth presenting them in detail: 1….
August 30, 2005

There’s a very interesting article by John Ioannidis in PLoS Medicine, the free online journal. Most current published research findings might well be false, he says. There are several factors, and I think it’s worth presenting them in detail:

1. Many research studies are small, with only a few dozen participants.

2. In many scientific fields, the “effect sizes” (a measure of how much a risk factor such as smoking increases a person’s risk of disease, or how much a treatment is likely to improve a disease) are small. Research findings are more likely true in scientific fields with large effects, such as the impact of smoking on cancer, than in scientific fields where postulated effects are small, such as genetic risk factors for diseases where many different genes are involved in causation. If the effect sizes are very small in a particular field, says Ioannidis, it is “likely to be plagued by almost ubiquitous false-positive claims.”

3. Financial and other interests and prejudices can also lead to untrue results.

4. “The hotter a scientific field (with more scientific teams involved), the less likely the research findings are to be true,” which may explain why we sometimes see “major excitement followed rapidly by severe disappointments in fields that draw wide attention.”

This ought to be an eye-opener…. The solution? More publication of preliminary findings, negative studies (which often suffer that fate of the file-drawer effect), confirmations, and refutations. PLoS says, “the editors encourage authors to discuss biases, study limitations, and potential confounding factors. We acknowledge that most studies published should be viewed as hypothesis-generating, rather than conclusive.” And maybe this will also temper journalists’ tendency to offer every new study as the Next Big Thing.

Deep Dive

Uncategorized

Our best illustrations of 2022

Our artists’ thought-provoking, playful creations bring our stories to life, often saying more with an image than words ever could.

How CRISPR is making farmed animals bigger, stronger, and healthier

These gene-edited fish, pigs, and other animals could soon be on the menu.

The Download: the Saudi sci-fi megacity, and sleeping babies’ brains

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology. These exclusive satellite images show Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway In early 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia announced The Line: a “civilizational revolution” that would house up…

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.