THE BLOG

Confirmed: Economists Are Liars

25/07/2014 13:15 BST | Updated 24/09/2014 10:59 BST

A new report has proven for the first time what many people thought all along: nearly all economists have lied, cheated or stolen other people's work.

The research by the University of Freiburg (Germany) and the Walter-Eucken Institute focused on Europe and has revealed that 'ninety-four percent [of economists] report having engaged in at least one unaccepted research practice,' from plagiarism to ignoring contrary evidence, skewing data and not reading their sources. Basically, all economsits are liars.

The paper, 'Scientific misbehaviour in economics,' notes that instances of misconduct increase significantly the greater the pressure on academics to publish: the 'publish or perish' doctrine. 39% say pressure to publish, potentially at any cost, is "very high".

It states that: 'Even though scandals are rare, their existence fundamentally questions the image of science as a quest for truth.

'Trust in scientific research is... grounded on the assumption that it is unbiased.' That trust is likely to be even further undermined after these findings.

52% said they had refrained from checking the contents of the works cited, a third admitted to using empirical findings selectively to confirm their argument, and over a third said they rigged their statistical analysis to get to their preferred result.

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The study also shows that the average economist thinks 'Defining the research question according to data availability' is acceptable, giving it a 4.5 out of 6 (where 6 is 'highly justifiable'). Most ranked as 3 out of 6 in terms of acceptability 'Citing strategically to raise publication prospects (e.g., to please editors or possible referees)', and even more for complying with editors' suggestions even when they think they're wrong.

Despite a large proportion of economists saying they had suspected others of misconduct in the past, just 24% then reported them, meaning a great deal of bias could slip through the net.

However, the study also said that misconduct was more likely to be even higher in reality, due to academics responding to the survey themselves - i.e. they 'fessed up. Over 600 economists took part in the survey.

Four previous studies show similar findings, but this new research is the first to give details on what the economists themselves find unacceptable and relate it to institutional pressure on the academics to publish as universities strive to reach ever higher publication targets.

A study in 2001 showed that academics believe that 5-7% of economic research in the top 30 journals is falsified and that 13-17% is affected by other misdemeanours.

The author discusses her research in more detail over at the LSE Blog here, but you can view the full study here.

TLDR: you were right all along - economics is mostly bullshit.