Science’s Reproducibility Problem

A recent roundtable discussion identifies challenges facing the scientific community regarding a lack of reproducible results in the literature.

Dec 18, 2012
Bob Grant

Die Chemiker (detail), Ernst Karl Georg Zimmermann (1852-1901)WIKIMEDIA, DOROTHEUMThe gold standard for science is reproducibility. Ideally, research results are only worthy of attention, publication, and citation based if independent researchers can replicate them using a particular study’s methods and materials. But for much of the scientific literature, results aren’t reproducible at all. The causes and remedies for this state of affairs was the topic of a recent panel discussion titled “Sense and Reproducibility,” held at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco, California.

Glenn Begley, former head of research at Amgen and roundtable panel member, spoke of his March revelation that the biotech company’s scientists were unable to replicate the results of 47 out of 53 papers that were seminal to launching drug-discovery programs. “This is a systemic problem built on current incentives,” he said according to Nature.

The panel offered suggestions, such as raising journals’ publication standards, establishing the use of electronic lab notebooks at research facilities, and helping laboratory supervisors provide improved supervision by reducing the size of labs. See a discussion of other initiatives launched this year to help solve the problem of irreproducible science—as well as examples of outright fraud in the scientific community—in yesterday’s bad behavior recap of 2012.