Scientific Utopia II. Restructuring Incentives and Practices to Promote Truth Over Publishability


Publication: 2013-08-02


In our view, the key for improving the efficiency of knowledge accumulation is to capitalize on existing motivations to be accurate and to reduce the emphasis on publication itself as the mechanism of achievement and advancement. Scientists have strong accuracy motivations. And in the long run, getting it right has a higher payoff than getting it published. However, the goal to publish is immediate, palpable, and concrete; the goal to be accurate is distal and abstract. As a consequence, the short-term payoffs of publishing can be inordinately influential (Liberman & Trope, 1998; Trope & Liberman, 2003), particularly for early-career scientists for whom there is relative urgency for markers of achievement. To address this, the conditions of daily practice must elevate the importance of the more abstract, longer-term goals in comparison to the persisting importance of the concrete, shorter-term goals... we suggest new or altered practices to meet these objectives.

We titled this article "Scientific Utopia" self-consciously. The suggested revisions to scientific practice are presented idealistically. The realities of implementation and execution are messier than their conceptualization. Science is the best available method for cumulating knowledge about nature. Even so, scientific practices can be improved to enhance the efficiency of knowledge building. The present article outlined changes to address a conflict of interest for practicing scientists—the rewards of getting published that are independent of the accuracy of the findings that are published. Some of these changes are systemic and require cultural, institutional, or collective change. But others can emerge "bottom-up" by scientists altering their own practices.


Name:Owen Ambur


Name:Brian A. Nosek


Co-Author -- We, the present authors, would like to believe that our motivation to do good science would overwhelm any decisions that prioritize publishability over accuracy. However, publishing is a central, immediate, and concrete objective for our career success. This makes it likely that we will be influenced by self-serving reasoning biases despite our intentions. The most effective remedy available for immediate implementation is to make our scientific practices transparent. Transparency can improve our practices even if no one actually looks, simply because we know that someone could look.


  • Jeffrey R. SpiesCo-Author

  • Matt MotylCo-Author

  • CommentersAcknowledgments -- We thank Yoav Bar-Anan, Roger Giner-Sorolla, Jesse Graham, Hal Pashler, Marco Perugini, Bobbie Spellman, N. Sriram, Victoria Stodden, and E. J. Wagenmakers for helpful comments.

  • Yoav Bar-AnanCommenter

  • Roger Giner-SorollaCommenter

  • Jesse GrahamCommenter

  • Hal PashlerCommenter

  • Marco PeruginiCommenter

  • Bobbie SpellmanCommenter

  • N. SriramCommenter

  • Victoria StoddenCommenter

  • E. J. WagenmakersCommenter