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Exposure of faked dishonesty study makes me proud to be a behavioural scientist

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08.09.2021

The story has a lot to recommend it: psychologist Dan Ariely, the author of a bestselling book on the behavioural science of dishonesty, retracts his study because the data was faked. No wonder it’s been picked up by the world’s media. Buzzfeed declared this “the latest blow to the buzzy field of behavioural economics”. Psychologist Stuart Ritchie, himself a scientist, wrote about the case under the headline: “Never trust a scientist”.

I worry about these interpretations. And not because I teach on a behavioural science master’s programme. I worry because headlines like this risk stoking anti-science sentiment at a time when faith in experts is low, when thoughtful people parrot that we live in a “post-truth world” and where mistrust of science is causing deaths.

But most of all, I worry about these interpretations because I take the opposite conclusion from this story. In this case, the lesson is that the scientific process actually worked well.

An important and overlooked detail is that the scientific process revealed years ago that the results of the paper didn’t hold. Using data provided by an insurance company, Ariely’s study claimed that people are more honest in their reports if they sign a declaration of truthfulness at the beginning of a document rather than at the end of it. The........

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