Researching Research

Stanford University starts new center to study how scientific research can be improved.

Apr 28, 2014
Jef Akst

WIKIMEDIA, NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTEThe recently launched Meta-Research Innovation Center (METRICS) at Stanford University aims to change how research is done. Professors of Medicine John Ioannidis and Steven Goodman will head the new center, which is funded by a $6 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and will host scientists from diverse fields to share their findings and discuss the challenges of performing rigorous research. The end goal is to identify common errors and biases that may be contributing to the rise in irreproducible research.

“We’re all interested in advancing excellence in research,” Ioannidis told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “It became apparent to me that these issues occurred so frequently that, maybe instead of trying to answer a single question, one should take a bird’s-eye view. What’s happening in the scientific literature in general?”

Ioannidis, who in 2005 penned the provocative PLOS Medicine article “Why most published research findings are false,” will dedicate about half of his time to the new center. In addition to identifying the problems, he and his colleagues also hope to find some solutions. Of course, he noted, researchers in the still-young field of meta-research are liable to make the same mistakes as scientists of any field, and therefore caution is required as they analyze the weaknesses in the scientific system.