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Reproducibility is becoming a highly discussed issue in all research sciences. The ability for major research findings to be independently replicated after an initial experiment is essential to building upon foundational discoveries. When experiments are not conducted thoroughly or published articles lack sufficient details for replication, we lose the ability to move ahead with accurate science. This is a major problem for researchers today.
This problem will only begin to be addressed if institutions, universities, industry, and others alike take on the responsibility of producing scientific experiments and reporting scientific methods that can be replicated at a later date. Thus, the conventions of reproducible science are paramount to the future of biomedical research findings in particular.
Several areas are being scrutinized in the discussion on biomedical reproducibility. Including:
- Thoroughness of experimental details in journal articles
- Review of studies submitted to journals
- Scientific fraud
- Utilization of highly reproducible techniques
Thoroughness in research is important, because without knowing all the details of a foundational experiment future scientists are unable to efficiently build upon that research. To increase thoroughness, the Reproducibility Initiative, headed by Elizabeth Iorns, is advising full disclosure of experimental procedures in published papers. The initiative aims to identify and reward high quality, published research that can be successfully reproduced by independent validation labs. The first step in this process is pinpointing a pool of research that is true and accurate —a task The Reproducibility Initiative has begun by investigating 50 of the most impactful cancer biology studies from 2010 – 2012.
In light of the growing concern regarding scientific reproducibility, the review processes for scientific journal submissions are seeing stringent changes as well. The plans to increase the reproducibility of published papers laid out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the beginning of the year are just one example. In their plan the NIH instituted a training module for enhancing the transparency of cited methods, provided a checklist for routine evaluation of grant applications, and began to urge scientific journals to revise their current review practices. Since then, high-impact journals like Nature and Science have implemented precautionary statistical checklists intended to qualify submitted research papers before publishing them in their magazines.
Unfortunately, though, there are times reported science is proved to be inaccurate, and fraudulent papers claiming breakthrough research are retracted. These retractions can severely affect scientists who have based their careers on such published inaccuracies.
In response, Ireland has taken precautions against fraudulent publication. By the end of the year The Science Foundation Ireland will be funding auditors at leading universities. The auditors will look into best practices related to research, procedures “for reporting and investigating misconduct; whether management has followed those procedures in real cases; and whether any investigations have been carried out to a satisfactory standard.” The purpose of these audits is to encourage researchers to take protocols seriously and to put standards in place that will decrease the likelihood of scientific fraud occurring.
Another area of the reproducibility discussion highlights the need for highly consistent research techniques and instrumentation. The nature of complex research and varying protocols between labs can cause inherent fluctuating results from experiment to experiment. To help combat the variability, there is a need for improved and consistent training of researchers using Western blotting and other scientific techniques in their research, just as there is a need for the instruments researchers use to be of the highest quality and to generate reproducible results. Putting more emphasis on training researchers and utilizing the highest quality instruments will help to improve the reproducibility of the studies research labs are currently conducting.
Only time will tell if the scientific community will really begin to take the issues and repercussions of reproducible science seriously. While science is shifting it is important you stay ahead of the curve and close the gaps in your research confidently. Your commitment to producing reproducible research is critical to redressing the reputation of the scientific method from beginning research stages to the published piece.
Are your findings reproducible? Read more about how reproducibility is affecting the life sciences and where the future of Western blotting may be headed.
If you’d like to learn more about reliable instrumentation, check out LI-COR Imaging Systems, which offer a digital imaging solution that ensures reproducible results. See how LI-COR can help you improve your research.