Thursday, April 18, 2013

Self-Underfunding Science

The Guardian has a nice comment on science underfunding being a cause of papers published lacking sufficient statistical power.  The point of more money leading to bigger and better studies isn't lost on many researchers, but underfunded studies create a much more serious problem than the occasional flaky paper:
The more serious problem with under-resourced neuroscience is that it systematically distorts the established body of supposed knowledge by increasing the number of spurious findings – so-called "false positives". Exactly the same argument applies to any empirical science.
But who exactly, is underfunding this research?  It's always easy to point the finger at a nameless, faceless, governmental funding body, and unfortunately that seems to be the status quo.  The other party involved in triggering an experiment is generally the principal investigator, who ought to have planned out the work in advance, received a grant for it, and set their group in motion.  The Guardian just manages to touch on this:
If there is a genuine commitment to funding a particular experiment, then it is essential that enough money is allocated for that experiment to be carried out properly.
If this isn't done in advance, there's a strong likelihood the work ends up cited, but as an example of how not to organize an experimental project.