Research helps guide decision-making in every area of our lives, from our personal day-to-day choices to the far-reaching policies and practices of governments, health care systems, public schools, and other institutions. Well-conducted and accessible research can be tremendously beneficial, while flawed and opaque studies can be misleading or even cause harm. With so much at stake, it’s important to know that the findings disseminated by the scientific community are accurate. However, a large body of research — even many of the studies reported in prestigious scientific journals — is considered unreliable. Problems run the gamut from shoddy research methods and overstated results to selectively reported findings.
Many of the issues stem from misaligned incentives within the research ecosystem. Nearly all players in the research community are incentivized to prioritize novel findings, for example. Researchers who report provocative results are more likely to get published, obtain funding, and earn tenure. Journals look to publish eye-catching findings in order to further their reputation and prestige. Media outlets seek to drive traffic to their platforms with attention-grabbing headlines about flashy results. And universities compete to hire top scholars and obtain funding and positive coverage.
Our team has worked to alter this incentive structure and create a more rigorous and open research enterprise that will help build the evidence base about what works to improve people’s lives. We support efforts that help scientists use high-quality methods to do their work and initiatives to ensure research is conducted and reported in a transparent manner. We have funded the development of open science tools and resources, worked with journals to develop more rigorous guidelines for studies accepted for publication, and supported reproducibility projects to confirm previous findings. Recently, we funded the New Venture Fund to educate policymakers about the importance of open science and to train researchers about transparent study practices. We also provided a grant to the American Geophysical Union to develop best practices for sharing data across earth sciences in order to ensure that the data is accessible to other researchers and the public.
A Call for Transparency
Laura and John Arnold Foundation Co-Founder Laura Arnold delivers a TEDx Pennsylvania Avenue talk calling for policymakers and philanthropists to make decisions based on rigorous research rather than anecdote, ideology, or personal experience. (TEDx Pennsylvania Avenue video)