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Breakthroughs or Breakdowns Ahead? Is Internet Research Immune to the Decline Effect?

17 Jul 2015

Internet research is demonstrably a hot area, with sometimes dramatic claims in the scientific literature eagerly echoed and amplified by journalists. Yet some heavily promoted, high profile studies have proven exaggerated and simply false finding but go uncorrected or retracted. Examples include social contagion studies, a Twitter study of negative emotion and heart disease, and the Google Flu Trend study. As a field of research, Internet studies show signs suggesting a decline effect could be eminent, in which credibility is indiscriminately swept away along with bad science. This talk will draw upon examples from diverse areas of other research to show the nature of the decline effect, but a counter example of genome wide area studies (GWAS) where repeated untrustworthiness of results prompted effective corrective action. It will be argued that Internet research would benefit from better self policing of immoderate claims, educative public engagement, and the emergence of authoritative sources of post publication peer review outside of mainstream journals.