Increased scientific rigor will improve reliability of research and effectiveness of management

Journal of Wildlife Management
By: , and 

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Abstract

Rigorous science that produces reliable knowledge is critical to wildlife management because it increases accurate understanding of the natural world and informs management decisions effectively. Application of a rigorous scientific method based on hypothesis testing minimizes unreliable knowledge produced by research. To evaluate the prevalence of scientific rigor in wildlife research, we examined 24 issues of the Journal of Wildlife Management from August 2013 through July 2016. We found 43.9% of studies did not state or imply a priori hypotheses, which are necessary to produce reliable knowledge. We posit that this is due, at least in part, to a lack of common understanding of what rigorous science entails, how it produces more reliable knowledge than other forms of interpreting observations, and how research should be designed to maximize inferential strength and usefulness of application. Current primary literature does not provide succinct explanations of the logic behind a rigorous scientific method or readily applicable guidance for employing it, particularly in wildlife biology; we therefore synthesized an overview of the history, philosophy, and logic that define scientific rigor for biological studies. A rigorous scientific method includes 1) generating a research question from theory and prior observations, 2) developing hypotheses (i.e., plausible biological answers to the question), 3) formulating predictions (i.e., facts that must be true if the hypothesis is true), 4) designing and implementing research to collect data potentially consistent with predictions, 5) evaluating whether predictions are consistent with collected data, and 6) drawing inferences based on the evaluation. Explicitly testing a priori hypotheses reduces overall uncertainty by reducing the number of plausible biological explanations to only those that are logically well supported. Such research also draws inferences that are robust to idiosyncratic observations and unavoidable human biases. Offering only post hoc interpretations of statistical patterns (i.e., a posteriorihypotheses) adds to uncertainty because it increases the number of plausible biological explanations without determining which have the greatest support. Further, post hocinterpretations are strongly subject to human biases. Testing hypotheses maximizes the credibility of research findings, makes the strongest contributions to theory and management, and improves reproducibility of research. Management decisions based on rigorous research are most likely to result in effective conservation of wildlife resources. 

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Increased scientific rigor will improve reliability of research and effectiveness of management
Series title Journal of Wildlife Management
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.21413
Volume 82
Issue 3
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 10 p.
First page 485
Last page 494