T-hacking — short for “theory hacking” — is the practice of excluding or mischaracterizing relevant theory or findings from the conceptual development of a paper. T-hacking benefits the t-hacker by boosting the theoretical contribution of the research and thus increasing the likelihood that a paper is accepted and subsequently cited. The benefit may indirect; for instance, an author may not cite a paper so that the omitted paper’s author is not asked to peer review the submitted work.
Recently, T-hacking came up in a Twitter thread:
As part of the thread, I heard from Ricky Jeffrey, who told me about a paper that discusses a related phenomena, “dismissive reviews” (authored by Richard Phelps).
Here is an excerpt from the paper:
Dismissive reviews aren’t just lazy, though; they are gratuitous. If there ever was a requirement that each and every research article must include a thorough literature review, it has long since lapsed in most journals. Scholars do not need to hide that they have not searched everywhere they could. Research has accumulated in many fields to such a volume that familiarity with an entire literature would now be too time-consuming for any individual. In most fields, when someone writes a dismissive review and claims command of an entire research literature, they claim a near impossible accomplishment.
I was happy to find out about the paper. When wrote the original blog post, I was concerned that I had not discovered related writing:
NOTE: Others may have written about this idea, and I was unable to find their work. In other words, I have not knowingly t-hacked my t-hacking idea.Please let me know if someone has written about this topic. I found a paper by Maddox (1991; Another Mountain out of a Molehill) in Nature, which discusses dangers of plagiarism, but downplays another scholar’s accusation that he was t-hacked.
What do you think? Is T-hacking a problem?