Preregistration of Studies and Mock Reports

The traditional system of scientific and scholarly publishing is breaking down in two different directions.

On one hand, we are moving away from relying on a small set of journals as gatekeepers: the number of papers and research projects is increasing, the number of publication outlets is increasing, and important manuscripts are being posted on SSRN, Arxiv, and other nonrefereed sites.

At the same time, many researchers are worried about the profusion of published claims that turn out to not replicate or in plain language, to be false. This concern is not new—some prominent discussions include Rosenthal (1979), Ioannidis (2005), and Vul et al. (2009)—but there is a growing sense that the scientific signal is being swamped by noise.

I recently had the opportunity to comment in the journal Political Analysis on two papers, one by Humphreys, Sierra, and Windt, and one by Monogan, on the preregistration of studies and mock reports. Here’s the issue of the journal.

Given the high cost of collecting data compared with the relatively low cost of writing a mock report, I recommend the “mock report” strategy be done more often, especially for researchers planning a new and expensive study. The mock report is a form of pilot study and has similar virtues.

In the long term, I believe we as social scientists need to move beyond the paradigm in which a single study can establish a definitive result. In addition to the procedural innovations suggested in the papers at hand, I think we have to more seriously consider the integration of new studies with the existing literature, going beyond the simple (and wrong) dichotomy in which statistically significant findings are considered as true and nonsignificant results are taken to be zero. But registration of studies seems like a useful step in any case.

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