Trouble Replicating Cancer Studies a ‘Wake-Up Call’ for Science

Times Higher Education, January 23, 2020 | Go to article overview

Trouble Replicating Cancer Studies a ‘Wake-Up Call’ for Science


Inability to begin reruns of experiments highlights the problem of weak methodologies of journal papers, say Center for Open Science director

A landmark attempt to replicate the results of dozens of the most influential cancer research studies should be a “wake-up call” to science, a professor has said, as most experiments could not be repeated because methodological data was missing.

Later this year, the Virginia-based Center for Open Science will publish the final two papers of an initiative launched in 2013 with the aim of replicating experiments from 50 high-impact cancer biology papers.

Many replication efforts were dropped, however, as the organisers realised that they needed more information from the original authors because vital methodological instructions had not been included in published papers. Frequently such details – as well as required materials – proved difficult to obtain, often owing to a lack of cooperation from the laboratories.

Subsequent delays and cost increases meant that just 18 papers covering 52 separate experiments, out of an initial 192 experiments targeted, were eventually replicated. Papers outlining the attempted replication of 10 articles have already been published.

The forthcoming papers in the replication study – one detailing the results of all 18 replicated papers, one on why so few were completed – were likely to be a “wake-up call” to science “given that so much information is missing” from published papers, according to Brian Nosek, the centre’s director and co-founder, who is also professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Professor Nosek said that the “biggest trouble [in conducting the replications] was what was available on how the research was done. We had problems every step of the way getting these studies done,” he said.

“Some of the papers we reviewed would have a short methods section for, say, 12 different experiments,” Professor Nosek explained. …

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