facebook twitter pinterest instagram You Tube

The Problem of Replication

Massachusetts General
Linda Keslar

One of the biggest problems, according to researchers at Oregon Health & Science University, is a lack of basic instructions for duplicating experiments. Their study, published in the journal PeerJ in 2013, examined the methods sections of several hundred articles from more than 80 journals and found that almost half of the articles fell short in identifying all of the materials used. They also noted that methods sections had no standard guidelines and varied from one journal to the next, and were often affected by space limitations.

Ellis notes another hurdle to replication: the failure to include negative data in papers. Journals don’t like to publish flawed data, but knowing an experiment sometimes failed, and why, could help other researchers when they run into trouble.

Several prominent journals, including Nature, Science and Science Translational Medicine, are now adopting guidelines to ensure the disclosure of all technical and statistical information that is crucial for reproducibility. Nature now provides more space for methods information and requires more precise information from authors. And to publish in Science, senior authors must sign off on a paper’s primary conclusions. The peer review process is also being scrutinized, with the aim of “increasing transparency,” particularly in analyzing researchers’ statistical measures, says Meagan Phelan, a spokesperson for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science.

Meanwhile, the Reproducibility Initiative has received $1.3 million in funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to replicate key findings from 50 landmark cancer biology studies. The foundation is also financing a related effort, the Reproducibility Project, which Brian Nosek helped establish, that is bringing together more than 180 academic psychologists through a network called the Center for Open Science to replicate 100 papers published in three prominent journals.


More From Massachusetts General >>
Read Next Article >>
UCLA has been tapped by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to...
Harry Campbell
In Alzheimer’s, amyloid-beta protein gets the blame, but is tau the true...
Breakthrough could improve mortality and preserve fertility.
LevelCheck aims to prevent surgical error during spine surgery.
Photo by Sam Kaplan; Copyright Sam Kaplan
What happens when groundbreaking research gets published in top journal...
Photo by Movus; http://www.gettyimages.com
Patients who come to Johns Hopkins for epilepsy surgery sometimes require...
Copyright Getty Images
A Supreme Court ruling on whether genes can be patented did not give...
Photo by Sergey Anatolievich Pristyazhnyuk; copyright Getty Images
The human body has many natural barriers intended to prevent...
Illustration by Brian Stauffer
By harnessing the power of regeneration residing in our own bodies, stem-...
One of my favorite expressions is: “Every day I work in healthcare, and...