Over the last decade, there’s been a lot of talk about reproducibility problems in science — about published results that turn out to be false alarms. In fields like psychology, neuroscience, and cell biology, these errors can send scientists down unproductive paths, waste time and money, and pollute headlines with misleading claims. "But I get much more exercised about reproducibility problems in clinical genetics, because those have massive and real-time consequences for thousands of families," says MacArthur.
While experiments may be published even in a top scientific journal, other researchers who attempt to repeat the same experiments under the same conditions often find contradicting results. As a measure of this, a recent study attempted to reproduce psychology publications and successfully replicated only 39 out of 100 studies. It turns out that excluding sex in experimental design may have contributed to reproducibility issues. Furthermore, sex can also have a biological impact on our scientific understanding and influence how well early biological studies translate into advances in human medicine.
Experimental results that don’t hold up to replication have caused consternation among scientists for years, especially in the life and social sciences (SN: 1/24/15, p. 20). In 2015 several research groups examining the issue reported on the magnitude of the irreproducibility problem. The news was not good.
The first part of the STM innovations seminar focused on the problems of reproducibility in science. For some years now, there have been voices of concern noting that when previously reported results are tested, the data very often doesn’t come out the same way. During the seminar, Andrew Hufton of Scientific Data went so far as to state that progress in the pharmaceutical sciences is being held back by lack of reliability in the basic literature.
The Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology aims to get a better, quantitative estimate of the reproducibility of important work and to understand the challenges such efforts present. Begun in 2013, the project is run jointly by the Center for Open Science (COS) in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Science Exchange in Palo Alto, California.
Brian Nosek of the University of Virginia and the Center for Open Science talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Reproducibility Project.