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August 14, 2012
Reproducing Scientific Results - On Purpose
We've spoken several times around here about the problems with reproducing work in the scientific literature. You have to expect some slippage on cutting-edge work, just because it's very complex and is being looked at for the first time. But at the same time, it's that sort of work that we're depending on to advance a field, so when it turns out to be wrong, it causes more damage than something older and more obscure that falls apart.
There's a new effort which is trying to attack the problem directly. Very directly. The Reproducibility Initiative is inviting people to have their work independently confirmed by third-party researchers. You'll be responsible for the costs, but at the end of it, you'll have a certification that your results have been verified. The validation studies themselves will be published in the new PLOS ONE Reproducibility Collection, and several leading publishers have agreed to link the original publications back to this source.
I very much hope that this catches on. The organizers have rounded up an excellent advisory committee, with representatives from academia and industry, both of whom would be well served by more accurate scientific publication. I can especially see this being used when someone is planning to commercialize some new finding - going to the venture capital folks with independent verification will surely count for a lot. Granting agencies should also pay attention, and reward people accordingly.
Here's an article by Carl Zimmer with more on the idea. I'll be keeping a close eye on this myself, and hope to highlight some of the first studies to make it through the process. With any luck, this can become the New Normal for groundbreaking scientific results.
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