27. March 2024

Research Studying Research Research Studying Research

The Volkswagen Foundation is providing 1.8 million in funding for a project studying the effects of evaluation and reward systems in science

In what ways do evaluation and reward systems influence the conduct and results of research studies? This is the question addressed by Dr. Oliver Braganza of the University of Bonn and University Hospital Bonn, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Utrecht, the University of Duisburg-Essen and colleagues from the University of Bonn. Titled “The cultural evolution of scientific practice—from simulation to experimentation,” the project is to receive around 1.8 million euros in funding from the Volkswagen Foundation over the next four years.

Researcher Dr. Oliver Braganza
Researcher Dr. Oliver Braganza - has secured project funding from the Volkswagen Foundation. © Photo: Rolf Müller/University Hospital Bonn
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There is evidence that the results of a significant number of published scientific studies are not reproducible, i.e. the same result cannot be obtained in a repeat study using the same methods. “Simulations suggest that this could in part be due to ‘cultural evolutionary processes,’” says Dr. Oliver Braganza of the Institute of Experimental Epileptology and Cognition Research at the University Hospital Bonn (UKB). A member of the ImmunoSensation2 Cluster of Excellence, the transdisciplinary research areas Life & Health, Modelling and Individuals & Societies as well as the University of Bonn Center for Science and Thought, Dr. Braganza has conducted simulations to determine for example what sample size tends to maximize the researcher’s number of publications. Many studies with small sample sizes, it was revealed, can lead to more publications, which can be beneficial for a scientific career.

“Cultural evolutionary processes are likely to play a role in situations where our actions are influenced by cultural factors, such as field norms,” Dr. Braganza explains. “The decision as to what size a sample should be is often not fully determinable on scientific grounds, reflecting instead, to a degree, field norms or successful scientific precedents.” In this view, the standards or techniques that maximize success in the scientific selection process will be ‘passed on’ from professors to doctoral students. “The result would be that non-replicable results accumulate in the literature,” Dr. Braganza emphasizes, that “this process could occur without bad intent or even knowledge of individual researchers”.

Such simulation studies have not yet been experimentally corroborated, however. “That is unfortunate because experiments remain the gold-standard to establish causal relationships, and human behavior is generally more complex than corresponding model assumptions”. The researchers working on the project propose a paradigm which systematically links empirical study, simulation and experimentation. Dr. Braganza: “Such an approach will allow us to test predictions resulting from simulations on real human subjects in a controlled ‘laboratory context’, and systematically study the effectiveness of interventions.” The objective is to find ways to improve current scientific evaluation and reward systems, for instance to promote more reproducible research.

Also involved in the project besides Dr. Oliver Braganza of the University of Bonn and University Hospital Bonn as primary funding applicant are Adjunct Professor Johannes Schultz, Acting Director of the University of Bonn Center for Economics and Neuroscience (CENs), Dr. Uwe Peters, Assistant Professor at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies of Utrecht University, and Professor Jakob Kapeller, Director of the Institute for Socioeconomics at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

Dr. Oliver Braganza
The TRAs “Life & Health”, “Modelling” and “Individuals & Societies”
Center for Science and Thought
University of Bonn
Institute of Experimental Epileptology and Cognition Research
University Hospital Bonn
Phone +49 228-6885 157
Email: oliver.braganza@ukbonn.de

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