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Change, despite knowing that the gamers will find a way.

June 6, 2013

There was an interesting debate on twitter between Chris Chambers and Sophie Scott (among others) about the merits, or not, of the initiative of taking pre-registrations for research. The skeptics foresaw problems with blocking protocols for political/competitive reasons, and fears that interesting but unexpected results would be buried. (I hope someone will storify, and I will link)

Noah Gray commented that whatever changes we do, people will find a way to game them, because (at least for some) hierarchy and competition and positioning has such an allure that it will happen. (As always, his was pithier and wittier – as you must be on Twitter).

And, yes I agree, but I don’t agree that this is a reason to not attempt a change – because we know right now that the system is distorting.

I’m starting to take the position that all systems need periodical shaking up – in forms of reforms, revolutions or disruptions (if, by disruption you mean that some low-competence upstart that nobody cares about wedges in with cheap easy stuff on some niche-market, only to slowly become so big and so much the new new thing that the old, high quality established will become obsolete – which I what I think Christiansen means).

Otherwise, think of it as evolution.

Where do I get this pattern? From others way cleverer than me. When I read Nowak’s book on the evolution of cooperation, he mentioned that in his agent model worlds, cooperative behavior would evolve, be stable over some time, and then become gamed by the non-cooperators. There seems to be something inherent in the evolved dynamic that as the agents slowly change, there are opportunities for the non-cooperators to take advantage. (I will stay neutral on notions of group selection, as I’m not really competent to argue there)

Fukuyama’s “the origin of political order” has a similar sense. States and state institutions evolve to, in some ways, counter act humans nepotistic and tribal inclinations, creating larger and stronger units. But, the nepotism and tribalism may re-assert itself, and we have classes exploiting loopholes to amass the goodies for themselves. And he says that in some instances, there needs to be a violent revolution to change things. (Though, not always).

This seems to be hinted in Turchin’s clio dynamics also.

In a more present day, mundane area – Search Engine Optimization vs Google.

Jason Collins and Rob Brooks had an excellent article that hints as this dynamic, now within the area of the evolving family (us trouble-some breadwinning moms!). A great deal of development is driven by this delicate balance between cooperation and competition, and you can find it in myriad places.

It brings me, again, back to Hull, and his process model of science.

We will not escape gaming and search engine optimization, cheats and mimics. There will be no perfect for ever system, except the heat death of the universe (I’m sure some physicist may correct me on that). That does not mean we should just keep going as we are going, and let the search engine optimizers dominate our search for little-t truth. Let’s do some shake up, some changes. Let evolution continue. New gaming paths will open for those who seek glory without substance. That is for the next revolution, as we can’t predict what those paths will be. For now, keep nudging or evolving or revolving.

One Comment
  1. Oasis permalink

    “The skeptics foresaw problems with blocking protocols for political/competitive reasons (…)”

    Isn’t this also possible with the current publication process? I.c. if I was an editor I could also “block” articles (i.e. “failed” replications attempts or findings that directly contradict a certain theory or whathever). I do not see how this is a valid argument in a comparison of “traditional publishing” vs. using pre-registration protocols.

    Regardless of this: you could think of publishing all pre-registration protocol-proposals + the reasons the editors declined them.

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