Publication bias and merit in ecology


  • C. J. Lortie,

  • L. W. Aarssen,

  • A. E. Budden,

  • J. K. Koricheva,

  • R. Leimu,

  • T. Tregenza

C. J. Lortie (, Dept of Biology, York Univ., 4700 Keele St., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M6S 2E2.–L. W. Aarssen, Dept of Biology, Queen's Univ., Kingston, ON, Canada, K7L 3N6.–A. E. Budden, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada, M5S 3B2.-J. K. Koricheva, School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway, Univ. of London, Egham, Surrey, UK, TW20 0EX. – R. Leimu, Inst. for Biochemistry and Biology, Univ. of Potsdam, Maulbeerallee 1, DE-14469 Potsdam, Germany.–T. Tregenza, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, Univ. of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, Tremough, Penryn, UK, TR10 9EZ.


Bias, or any set of factors that influence the general expression of merit, is common in science and is an inevitable by-product of an imperfect but otherwise reasonably objective human pursuit to understand the world we inhabit. In this paper, we explore the conceptual significance of a relatively tractable form of bias, namely publication and dissemination bias. A specific definition is developed, a working model of classification for publication bias is proposed, and an assessment of what we can measure is described. Finally, we offer expectations for ecologists with respect to the significance of bias in the publication process within our discipline. We argue that without explicit consideration of both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of publication bias in ecology, we limit our capacity to fairly assess and best use the science that we as a community produce.