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Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Reproducibility and negative results

Finally the molecular biology research community is being scolded for its publishing practices.

The new European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity writes: "Authors and publishers [must] consider negative results to be as valid as positive findings for publication and dissemination".

Recent Nature news are bouncing back against the Cancer reproducibility study that wanted to test the reproducibility of the experiments described in 50 papers.   The blogger even cite "who watch the watchman?" question.  And journals ask you to fill forms over forms as a measure to ensure reproducibility.

But no one seems to point to what to me appears as the central issue: individualism and science are incompatible.  Look at this definition of science, which I use in my "How to write a scientific paper" lecture for graduate students: "The scientific method is the process by which scientists, collectively and over time, endeavour to construct an accurate (that is, reliable, consistent and non arbitrary) representation of the world" (Wilson, E. B. An Introduction to Scientific Research, Courier Dover Publications, 1990).

No individual scientist discover anythings alone, because any true discovery is made of all the papers that showed what something is not by reporting negative results, and and all the papers that replicated that first positive experiment.

The predominant behavioural model for biological research, made of papers on Nature, labs named after the principal investigator, and and the mirage of big bucks from big pharma if you spot the "magic bullet" must come to an end.

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