Monday, January 16, 2017

Honest Science

       We like to assume that the scientific literature always reflects the truth. However, there is a growing recognition that scientific findings are not guaranteed to be reproducible, causing many to question the validity of published results. This has led to dismay, exemplified in a 2016 Nature poll reporting that, of the 1,576 researchers who participated, 52% agreed that there is a ‘significant crisis’ of reproducibility in scientific research. Irreproducible research is a valid concern, since making scientific progress would seem to be difficult without the ability to corroborate results.
       Some scientists argue, however, that this lack of reproducibility in science is nothing new. As discussed in an article by Dr. John Horvath in Scientific American from 2013, unreliable research has been common since the beginning of modern science, and indeed is necessary for scientists to push the boundaries of what we know. Experiments that do not go as expected or hypotheses that are eventually proved to be incorrect are often what lead to novel discoveries. This is not a popular idea though, because it could potentially cause the public and funding agencies that may not understand the true pace of science to lose trust in the effectiveness of scientific research.
        Regardless of whether or not scientific findings are more or less reproducible now than in the past, the conclusion from this discussion is the same: we need to ensure that we prioritize being upfront and honest about experimental results. It is easy to allow personal opinions and biases affect the way results are portrayed in scientific literature and to the public. This human tendency to present results in the best light possible is amplified by the growing pressure to publish and the intense competition for funding and jobs. Everyone involved in the scientific process, from graduate students to PIs to journal editors need to be encouraged to make truth and honesty a priority in the way research is conducted and portrayed.

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