Dealing with being wrong in science

A doctor who challenges the faulty research of his peers is profiled in the latest issue of Atlantic. His conclusion is that expectations about science, specifically reactions to being wrong, need to be changed:

We could solve much of the wrongness problem, Ioannidis says, if the world simply stopped expecting scientists to be right. That’s because being wrong in science is fine, and even necessary—as long as scientists recognize that they blew it, report their mistake openly instead of disguising it as a success, and then move on to the next thing, until they come up with the very occasional genuine breakthrough. But as long as careers remain contingent on producing a stream of research that’s dressed up to seem more right than it is, scientists will keep delivering exactly that.

Negative findings, typically meaning that an alternative hypothesis is rejected, tend to receive less attention. Yet they are still useful as they advance science by ruling out alternatives. Both positive and negative findings are needed to build science (and any of its disciplines in the natural or social sciences).

But this doctor also suggests that the incentive system for scientists needs to be changed. As long as breakthroughs and big findings are what are rewarded, that is what scientists will look for and claim to find.