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Schneck, Andreas (2023): Are most published research findings false? Trends in statistical power, publication selection bias, and the false discovery rate in psychology (1975–2017). PLOS One: 0292717. ISSN 1932-6203

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The validity of scientific findings may be challenged by the replicability crisis (or cases of fraud), which may result not only in a loss of trust within society but may also lead to wrong or even harmful policy or medical decisions. The question is: how reliable are scientific results that are reported as statistically significant, and how does this reliability develop over time? Based on 35,515 papers in psychology published between 1975 and 2017 containing 487,996 test values, this article empirically examines the statistical power, publication bias, and p-hacking, as well as the false discovery rate. Assuming constant true effects, the statistical power was found to be lower than the suggested 80% except for large underlying true effects (d = 0.8) and increased only slightly over time. Also, publication bias and p-hacking were found to be substantial. The share of false discoveries among all significant results was estimated at 17.7%, assuming a proportion θ = 50% of all hypotheses being true and assuming that p-hacking is the only mechanism generating a higher proportion of just significant results compared to just nonsignificant results. As the analyses rely on multiple assumptions that cannot be tested, alternative scenarios were laid out, again resulting in the rather optimistic result that although research results may suffer from low statistical power and publication selection bias, most of the results reported as statistically significant may contain substantial results, rather than statistical artifacts.

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