Why is scientific research often difficult to replicate? With some support from research funder NWO, the Dutch Cloning Network was established last week.
since Controversial fraud As psychologist Diederik Stapel, who has come up with all sorts of seemingly plausible data, says replication of scientific research gets attention. Because how was it possible that no one would try to imitate his research?
Since then, a variety of studies have been conducted, not only in psychology, that have attempted to replicate or “replicate” previous research. It always turns out that between forty and fifty percent of the results cannot be confirmed, says epidemiologist Michel de Boer from UMC Groningen.
According to him, science is talking about a “copy crisis.” Networks have now been established in about twenty countries to draw attention to the replication of scientific research. He has now also founded such a network, together with several colleagues from different universities: the Dutch Cloning Network (NLRN).
The network starts modestly, with a small support from the research funder NWO: €250,000 over the next three years. 'We have a part-time coordinator. We can also organize seminars and develop training materials, for example.'
In the past, NWO has directly provided funds to replicate influential research. However, the purpose of the NLRN is not necessarily the actual replication of studies, de Boer says, but the potential for replication. Scientists must work as transparently as possible, so that others can follow in their footsteps.
“Some scientists don't see the problem.”
De Boer: Some scientists don't see the problem. They think: I explained what I did in my method section, right? But a scientific journal, for example, will give you four hundred words to explain your method, so you can never provide all the details. If you want to reproduce something, you also need someone's data, software, codes and so on.
He emphasizes that the establishment of the network is in line with the pursuit of open science. But open science is also about articles that can be read for free, and we're not about that. We look specifically at the reproducibility of scientific research.
De Boer believes that fraudulent researchers like Stapel are not actually the biggest problem, because this rarely happens. Often, researchers go somewhere, for example, publishing only important results. Then the conclusions sometimes seem amazing, when in fact they are based on chance.
In science, there is also the problem of “publication bias,” says de Boer. Journals only publish interesting results. Sometimes there is only a little left when you try again.
Is this relevant for all disciplines, even if experiments and data hardly play a role? De Boer thinks so. 'In a field like history, the discussion is still in its infancy, but initiatives are emerging. For example, there is someone trying to imitate the attribution of two paintings by Rembrandt, to see what you come up against.'
“We still have to move forward”
De Boer stresses that the network itself is also in its infancy. He says he and his colleagues are having all kinds of discussions, but so far only one institution has officially joined: his own University of Groningen. “We definitely still have to go, but all kinds of local initiatives have already been linked. We would like to put them in touch with each other.
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