Selective reporting—e.g., the preferential publication of results that are statistically significant, or consistent with theory or expectation—presents a challenge to meta-analysis and seriously undermines the quest for generalizations. Funnel graphs (scatterplots of effect size vs. sample size) help reveal the extent of selective reporting. They also allow the strength of biological effects to be judged easily, and they reaffirm the value of graphical presentations of data over statistical summaries.

Funnel graphs of published results, including: () sex-ratio variation in birds, () field estimates of heritabilities, and () relations between fluctuating asymmetry and individual attractiveness or fitness, suggest selective reporting is widespread and raise doubts about the true magnitude of these phenomena. Quasireplication—the “replication” of previous studies using different species or systems—has almost completely supplanted replicative research in ecology and evolution. Without incentives for formal replicative studies, which could come from changes to editorial policies, graduate training programs, and research funding priorities, the contract of error will continue to thwart attempts at robust generalizations.

“For as knowledges are now delivered, there is a kind of contract of error between the deliverer and the receiver: for he that delivereth knowledge desireth to deliver it in such a form as may be best believed, and not as may be best examined; and he that receiveth knowledge desireth rather present satisfaction than expectant inquiry; and so rather not to doubt than not to err: glory making the author not to lay open his weakness, and sloth making the disciple not to know his strength.”

      , Francis Bacon, 1605 (8:170–171)


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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