You need to provide the background of your study, the types of experiments undertaken, the materials and methods, and initial results of your study.
Do the technicians reproducing the results get to see the initial results? It seems like it might be more accurate if they didn't. Lots of parameters can be fudged and adjusted, a la Millikan's Oil Drop, when the results don't quite match. I imagine this might be exacerbated with the necessity of researcher-validator communication.
How are conflicts resolved? If my results are not validated, someone made a mistake - me or the validator. If both parties stand by their mutually incompatible results, where does it go from there? I can imagine a lot of researchers I know feeling annoyed that someone whose expertise they cannot verify (due to anonymity) won't "do my experiment correctly".
I imagine that in time there might be specific requirements or explicit funding allocations for such reproduction on grant applications, which would really allow it to take off. As it stands, I imagine a lot of PI's would just ask "hmm, I can spend money that might risk my already high-impact paper, or I can keep the money and not be considered wrong."
Still, this is a great first step toward facilitating a central tenet of the scientific method. Congratulations.
We will provide the methodology of the original study to those reproducing the results, while the results we believe will be helpful to check against.
For conflicts, it's true we can't force an investigator to publish or note the lack of reproduced outcomes. We do hope they will through the PLOS Collection, for transparency. We do feel though it can provide a valuable check for 'failing fast', for those investigators who want robust results.
In this initial stage, we also agree that funding will be difficult. That's why we hope to focus on small biotechs and research labs that are interested in commercializing their research, and need to show robustness of results for licensing opportunities.
Hopefully then, it can serve as a proof-of-principle for funding agencies to provide a requirement or increase support for reproducibility.
As an experienced scientist myself, I can say there is plenty of scope for misunderstanding and misinterpretation, no matter how careful the original authors were. So I only hope that there will be some (maybe blinded) mechanism for communication between the original researchers and those replicating the published findings, in the event of the "usual" complications.
Also, who would do this replication? Would some of it be outsourced to academic labs with the requisite experience? Advanced findings often depend on advanced techniques. Outsourcing could be problematic, politically, since Big Shot No.1 might not be too interested in shooting down his pal, Alpha-MD-PhD.
To clarify, the validation studies will be matched to core resource facilities and commercial research organizations, who specialize in conducting certain experiments on a fee for service basis. As they are paid upon completion of a service, regardless of outcome, we feel they are the solution to many of the misaligned incentives in academic research.
With respect to communication between the original authors and those conducting the validation, we definitely agree there needs to be some degree of communication, given the complexities of research. We will originally match a researcher to their provider in a blind fashion, so they have no choice in who conducts their study. But once a provider is selected, they can communicate with one another in explaining the methodology, experiments, etc.
Especially in computer focused areas like CS or Statistics, it would be straight forward to submit more or less completely self-reproducible papers.
Alas, it is seemingly impossible to find an adviser who will allow you to publish all your source code and primary data, let alone spend the additional time to get them into a publishable form.
- Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/independent-labs-to-verify-high-p...
- Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/201...
- Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/14/idUS117855+14-Aug-...
Where does the money for this come from? Are you expecting that labs will write this cost into their grants? Have you seen interest from grant agencies to then actually pay for this?
That kind of illustrates the usefulness of replication! If the effect is so finicky that it cannot even be replicated in another lab, in what sense is that result interesting, useful, - or even real?
Things get more reliable as time goes on and methods become better understood, but the critical steps in most experiments are usually nontrivial to replicate in the beginning. Especially by CROs, which are notorious black boxes, incredibly expensive, and often just plain old unreliable.
Currently though, we hope investigators will pay for the validation themselves. We believe it can provide a valuable service to those in small biotechs or those who want to commercialize their research, to improve the robustness of outcomes for potential licensing opportunities.
Reproducing experiments seems like a costly (and mostly thankless) effort that few PIs would ever take up.
The only journal I know of that completely reproduces results is Organic Syntheses (http://www.orgsyn.org/), which reproduces every reaction before publication and has a Procedure Checklist for authors: http://www.orgsyn.org/AuthorChecklist.pdf
If the findings claimed are significant enough, other labs will often attempt to replicate a few of the key experiments, and if they don't do so quickly, abandon that direction of investigation, and not report their negative findings.
From Feynman's Caltech commencement speech on this:
We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of
the ways we fool ourselves. One example: Millikan measured the
charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops, and
got an answer which we now know not to be quite right. It's a
little bit off, because he had the incorrect value for the
viscosity of air. It's interesting to look at the history of
measurements of the charge of the electron, after Millikan. If you
plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little
bigger than Millikan's, and the next one's a little bit bigger than
that, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, until
finally they settle down to a number which is higher.
Why didn't they discover that the new number was higher right away?
It's a thing that scientists are ashamed of--this history--because
it's apparent that people did things like this: When they got a
number that was too high above Millikan's, they thought something
must be wrong--and they would look for and find a reason why
something might be wrong. When they got a number closer to
Millikan's value they didn't look so hard. And so they eliminated
the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that.
We've learned those tricks nowadays, and now we don't have that
kind of a disease.
This is a worthy initiative.
Now other scientists, anywhere in the world, will read this and decide what they think of it, which may include attempting to replicate it. If they find different results, or have a qualm with an interpretation or methodology, they can write a response, which will also (after peer-review) be communicated by the journal to its readership, either as another paper, or if shorter, as a letter. Thus the back-and-forth of claim/replication/critique happens, all in the open air of the journal's pages, with any lab anywhere in the world able to follow the conversation and jump in if they wish.
To me that's more transparent than doing all this in some kind of closed pre-publication process. Perhaps in the modern era, the open communication doesn't necessarily have to happen in journals anymore: perhaps it should happen on arXiv, and journals should become more conservative in what they publish. But I would like it to still be public.
A lot of psychology journals have been burned by that over the years,
and as a consequence, just within the last year or so, the most prestigious psychology journals are beginning to ask authors of papers on new experimental research to show replication across at least two distinct data sets. This, in turn, is driving more collaboration among researchers at different research centers. It's a long overdue development, one in accord with best practice in science,
and I hope this practice spreads to most disciplines that publish new research reports in the major journals of the discipline.
(Although the requirement for prepublication replication is not explicitly mentioned in the publication guidelines of Psychological Bulletin,
which is the most prestigious psychology journal published in the United States, I have been told at the University of Minnesota behavior genetics "journal club" that replication across more than one data set is becoming a tacit requirement for publication in most of the better journals. Perhaps that guideline will eventually be made explicit for all of the better journals.)
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/17/science/rise-in-scientific... and other articles.
"Each year, every laboratory produces a new crop of Ph.D.’s, who must compete for a small number of jobs, and the competition is getting fiercer. In 1973, more than half of biologists had a tenure-track job within six years of getting a Ph.D. By 2006 the figure was down to 15 percent."
I would claim that science requires some basic integrity in its practitioners and if an institution is treating it's members as so many throw-away resources, it is hard to expect those members to move ahead with great idealism. The model of every desperate competitor watching every other competitor seems to be the replacement for model of science as a high ideal. I don't see it working out well.
We believe however our Initiative can help in laying an initial framework for how one can possibly address aspects of the problem. We've tried to build incentives (ease of outsourcing, rewarding publications) that factor into this issue, and can assist in improving outcomes. But we definitely agree that a holistic solution will require further changes to the academic research infrastructure.
My advisor is on appointment there right now, and they're working on guidelines that require you to provide full reproducibility of your program results (modulo system differences). At least for software, things are looking up. Of course, reproducibility is both infinitely easier (I can do it on any system!) and harder (what do you mean the kernel patchlevel or CPU/GPU sub-model-number matters?).
It's honestly a vast waste of intellectual potential, I wish I knew the solution!
Seems like a potential conflict of interest there.
Also, the main purpose of this is not to catch corruption, just prevent mostly honest researchers from fooling themselves (and then others), and increasing the base line for research.
I don't think most academic labs will pay for this. However, I can see it as being something that VC investors might like to see the next time someone presents with a wonder drug.
The fee-for-service actually helps to guard against biased results in two ways. Firstly, providers who validate studies are paid on completion, regardless of a reproducible or irreproducible outcome. Secondly, operating on a fee-for-service basis allows providers to operate outside academic incentives for publications, ensuring no incentive for biased-positive results.