A top science journal that receives funding from the federal government was recently forced to admit that well over 2,000 of the research papers it has published contain “exaggerated claims.”
As Just The News reports, over 2,600 papers from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) peer-reviewed journal Science were closely scrutinized by rival research journal Scientometrics. In the subsequent study, it was determined that, from 1997 to 2021, the journal saw a 40% drop in the use of “hedging” words.
In scientific research and other forms of academic writing, “hedging” words refers to terms and phrases such as “could” or “appear to,” in order to provide some room for doubt rather than depict absolute confidence. In 1997, there were roughly 115.8 examples of hedging for every 10,000 words. However, by 2021, that rate had fallen to just 67.42 per every 10,000.
Responding to the criticism, the news division of Science acknowledged that this new research “suggests a worrisome rise of unreliable, exaggerated claims.”
The non-profit watchdog group Influence Watch reports that “the federal government is the largest identifiable source of funding for AAAS,” as the association has received roughly $3.3 million per year from the federal government between 2008 and 2017, in addition to many other grants the association received.
“Less hedging may reflect a subtle strategy by authors to sell their results to editors and readers as an alternative to explicit exaggeration,” Scientonomics continued in their report.
Most recently, AAAS published numerous works that were overwhelmingly skeptical of theories claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China, going so far as label the suggestion “a conspiracy theory.”
Social psychologist Melissa Wheeler said that the study’s findings prove that displaying prudence in academic research is “vital to communicating what one’s data can actually say and what it merely implies.”
“If academic writing becomes more about the rhetoric,” Wheeler continued, “it will become more difficult for readers to decipher what is groundbreaking and truly novel.”
Despite these findings, Science largely doubled down on the practice, with executive editor Valda Vinsion claiming that the decrease in hedging language was due to authors being required to provide additional citations.
“We tone down language if it comes across as definitive when [the evidence] is not,” Vinsion insisted in a statement.