false research findings

Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

false research findings


Most published research findings are false, and it is causing alarm for many. Think about it. An article about how chocolate is good for you goes viral. Everyone is talking about it and using it as a way to justify their sweet tooth. A month later, another study comes out and says the opposite. So which one is correct? The rise of the internet and the ways information spreads like wildfire across social media is alarming. Knowing how to spot when a published research finding is false is the only way to be sure you are getting the whole truth.

Here’s what to look out for when questioning the validity of a research paper.

Most Published Research Findings Are False When Studies Use Small Sample Sizes

The importance of the sample size a published research finding uses is key to the validity of the paper. Large sample sizes are beneficial because they are more approximate to the population as a whole. A study with a small sample sized group doesn’t tell the whole story. You run the risk of the probability being unusual, and it doesn’t represent the population well. If you only have five people in a study, there is a high chance that all five people think and feel the same. Whereas if you have a study with 500 people, you are less likely to encounter that issue.

Studies Need More than Statistical Significance

The process of testing a hypothesis, or what researchers refer to as the p-value, is another factor leading to false published research findings. It is time that people publishing studies understand what the intent of the p-value is. Yale clinical neurologist Steven Novella says, “The p-value was never meant to be the sole measure of whether or not a particular hypothesis is true. Rather it was meant only as a measure of whether or not the data should be taken seriously.” The journey from hypothesis to data is statistical, but you need to go above and beyond that to get to the real truth of the matter.

The Greater the Flexibility of a Study’s Design Affects the Outcome

The design of the research plays a role in the outcome too. The more flexible it is, the more likely the results of the study isn’t as concrete as other research designs. Case studies are a common research method used to get an in-depth look at a group as related to the context that’s being studied. While it uses random samplings, it is more likely to be manipulated versus using another research design.  

Conflicts of Interest or Biases Sway Findings

Conflicts of interests or biases are another leading cause as to why many published research findings are false. Bias can entail manipulation in the reports of findings or being selective in the findings. In other words, if a researcher wants it to be true, they’ll find a way to make it true. Especially when it comes to controversial research or a trending topic in society. If possible, see who funded the study as well. If Hershey’s funds research that chocolate is good for you, you might want to reconsider that claim.

Science is self-correcting and eventually, the real truth comes out. Reviewing papers that actually conducted the study is far more likely to give you correct information versus a random blog post regurgitating the same information. Keep that in mind for when you write your next biology report. It will help get you the grade you deserve!

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