How to Navigate Dwindling Confidence in Your Research Topic

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Throughout millennia, there have always been struggles in the academic field. Answers we deem basic princples of science today were unknown thousands of years ago, and researchers had to use primitive methods to figure them out. Whether they were accidental, a la the “apple” story of Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity and the lightning striking the kite story of Benjamin Franklin’s discovery of electricity, or purposefully approached, the fact is that until the past few decades, research hasn’t been quite as streamlined as it is today.

But now, scholars are facing a crisis unlike any they’ve seen before: the replication crisis. Also called the replicability or reproducibility crisis, this problem refers to a massive chasm in the foundational tenet of research. The entire field of science is based on the belief that scientific studies, once published, are accurate and replicable. Yet, many recent research experiments have uncovered the reality that this might not be true for every published article, and that has resulted in a crack so large that it’s hard for many scholars to have confidence in their own work.

Why You Could Be Losing Confidence

If this dwindling confidence issue sounds familiar, rest assured that you are not alone. The replicability crisis is so large in scale and scoop that it has had a direct effect on every field of research. Many attempts to replicate findings that were previously published in reputable journals have been unsuccessful.

The lack of success could be based on one of multiple reasons, but the end result is the same: You, as a responsible and respected scholar, aren’t positive you’re building your research on a foundation of outcomes that were actually accurate. So, where do you go from there?

You have the choice of starting from ground zero and attempting to replicate every study you’re building upon yourself, or trusting that those studies are solid enough to be accurate and trustworthy. One way to reduce the stress is to look for research that has been replicated enough times, with the same results, that you can statistically believe it’s accurate.

Another potential method is to find the reason why the study you want to use was not replicable. In some caes, the repeated study didn’t find a particular effect that the original study had, or found one that didn’t exist in the first research. This could be a problem with an easy answer, like finding the name brand used in the first study and then repeating the research using that particular brand.

Tips to Focus on Improving Your Work and Confidence

Whatever the reason for the crack in your confidence, you must move forward with a goal and action steps to get to it, understanding that you can only be in charge of your decisions and actions, not those of the scholars previously publishing research.

If your lack of assurance in something you’ve already submitted is bothering you, consider repeating the experiment where it’s feasible. You likely won’t have the same funding and access to lab equipment, but you can look at the data again and see if subconscious bias or other errors occurred.

Consider posting a retroactive disclosure statement that tells the reader that everything in your study was reported transparently. From there, any discrepancies in the replicability studies can be approached as a scientific question, rather than an ethical violation.

Once you’ve done that, take a minute to follow the “what if” train of thought. What would happen if your current or previously published research was not repeatable? Where would the potential variables be the most likely to stem from? How can you plug those gaps to reduce future dissimilarities as best as possible? Did you document all of your steps to show that any errors were not intentional?

If all of these questions are in your favor, take the “what if” train to its final destination: What would be the outcome on your scholarly reputation should your work be found unreplicable? Considering so many other scholars are in your same shoes today, chances are, you might get a slap on the wrist and a warning.

Unless the damage is irreversible and widespread, it won’t be a career-ending problem. Move forward with the confidence in yourself that you should have after years of experience in your field, and then follow your metrics using a platform like Impactio. With Impactio, you can connect with other researchers around the world and see how they’re handling this crisis, and use the data analytics tools to follow your work’s influence.

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