Back to Media



The psychology of scientists: The role of cognitive biases in sustaining bad science

Dorothy Bishop Related
Foundations 29/01/2020

Much has been written about how we might tackle the so-called “replication crisis”. There have been two lines of attack. First, there are those who emphasise the need for better training in experimental design and statistics. Second, it is recognised that we need a radical overhaul of the incentive structure of science.

I shall argue, however, that to improve scientific practices we need to go deeper, to understand and counteract the mechanisms that maintain bad practices – not just at the institutional level, but in individual people. Misunderstanding of statistics, and the incentive structure that has evolved, have their roots in human cognition. I shall discuss how scientific thinking is not natural for humans: biased attention in conditions of information overload, use of cognitive schemata, and asymmetric moral reasoning all play a part in sustaining maladaptive scientific practices.