Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Boost scientific data reproducibility with quality standards, honor code

There is indeed a problem in the realm of scientific research when it comes to replicating data, as we learn from an article published by The Economist: Trouble at the Lab. The article discusses several phenomena that contribute to this problem, including bad statistics on the part of the scientists, poor research methodologies, peer reviewing that is inadequate, and lack of access to researchers’ methodological data and software. As a result, scientific research finds vastly challenged its reducibility, a quality which is a pillar of its ascribed objectivity.

There is a striking complementarity between this article and the assigned TED talk by Dan Ariely: Our Buggy Moral Code. Ariely discusses factors that encourage or discourage cheating in people. He discusses that people indeed do choose to cheat, and they choose to do so only a little. Additionally, one of his main points was that when reminded of morality people tend to cheat less. Let us replace Ariely’s “cheating” with the article’s phenomena that contribute to irreproducibility in research. If we do this, “cheating” is essentially not following proper standards of scientific research. From this perspective, we may posit that scientists at least aren’t too improper with their research methodologies, so there must be hope for us! As for reminding scientists of morality, the NIH could create an honor code for scientists.

That may sound funny, but at the same time I envision this: that a future generation will not only have an honor code for scientists but also an enforced formal quality standards for reporting scientific data. Firstly, that future generation with a regulated approach to reporting data will look back to ours and find it absurd that we did not have an enforced formal quality of standards. And I would not blame them, based on data such as that in the article being discussed which indicates that there is a prevalent degree of improper methodology when it comes to reporting data. I conceive that the same generation will look back at our lack of honor code with similar estrangement, for if they were taught to respect a set of morals in research, it would generally move them toward abiding by those morals, shifting the scientific culture. This would likely improve scientists’ desires to implement more proper methodologies in reporting their data, despite any cost to themselves since carrying such costs would not be taboo. Rather, it would be widespread and done in the cause of preserving the integrity of science’s reproducibility and thus objectivity. Oh, and the NIH would make sure these scientists don’t go out of business.

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