Accepted paper:

The tension between creativity and truth—the replication crisis and the structure of science


Alexander Bird (King's College London)

Paper short abstract:

Scientific creativity is prized, but it is in tension with the aim of truth. We hypothesize that the structure of science overvalues creativity at the expense of truth/knowledge, as is shown, we argue, by the replication crisis. We consider means of rebalancing the social structures of science.

Paper long abstract:

Creativity is universally prized and encouraged. But creativity can be used to produce ideas and objects that lack value or even have negative value (the work of a creative torturer or imaginative conspiracy theorist). So society may encourage creativity, but it needs also to ensure that this is directed towards producing objects of artistic or scientific (etc.) merit. A scientific community may be regarded as collective individual bound together by division of cognitive labour and by shared rules and conventions. Under what conditions is such a community both creative and oriented towards scientific value (truth, knowledge understanding)? Creativity and truth are in tension: in general, the more imaginative an idea is, the less likely it is to be true. So a community pursuing both needs to find the right balance (N.B. this does not have to be achieved by ensuring that each individual has the right balance). Because creativity is highly prized, and because it is easier to produce and to recognize than truth, we hypothesize that the balance is tilted in favour of creativity and, relatively, away from truth. We argue that there is evidence for this in the replication crisis in biomedicine and psychology. The various possible drivers—testing too many false hypotheses, questionable research practices (such as p-hacking), the policies of scientific journals—all indicate a structure oriented towards creativity more than truth. We briefly consider how the social structure of science and its incentives might be rebalanced between truth and creativity.

panel Cog02
Creative environments, social minds