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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Evan Horowitz

Studies show many studies are false

When a group of scientists discovered in 2011 that some particles travel faster than the speed of light, it shook the world of modern physics. The announcement drew widespread media attention and seemed to upend one of the bedrock theories of 20th-century science, special relativity. There was just one problem: It wasn’t true. It had all been a result of mismeasurement, in part from a loose cable.

This may be a particularly glaring example of research gone wrong, but it’s not the only example. In fact, there are good scientific reasons to think that lots of published research is actually false. In 2005, a research professor named John Ioannidis published a much-cited paper titled: “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” in which he showed how the pressures of academic life, the small size of many scientific studies, and the preference for unexpected findings mean that even premier journals are surprisingly likely to publish findings that just aren’t true.

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