Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Scientists, Share Secrets or Lose Funding: Stodden and Arbesman - Bloomberg

This article expresses my views in a much more eloquent way

The Journal of Irreproducible Results, a science-humor magazine, is, sadly, no longer the only publication that can lay claim to its title. More and more published scientific studies are difficult or impossible to repeat.
It’s not that the experiments themselves are so flawed they can’t be redone to the same effect -- though this happens more than scientists would like. It’s that the data upon which the work is based, as well as the methods employed, are too often not published, leaving the science hidden.

Too Little Transparency

Consider, for example, a recent notorious incident in biomedical science. In 2006, researchers at Duke University seemed to have discovered relationships between lung cancer patients’ personal genetic signatures and their responsiveness to certain drugs. The scientists published their results in respected journals (the New England Journal of Medicine and Nature Medicine), but only part of the genetic signature data used in the studies was publicly available, and the computer codes used to generate the findings were never revealed. This is unfortunately typical for scientific publications.
The Duke research was considered such a breakthrough that other scientists quickly became interested in replicating it, but because so much information was unavailable, it took three years for them to uncover and publicize a number of very serious errors in the published reports. Eventually, those reports were retracted, and clinical trials based on the flawed results were canceled.
In response to this incident, the Institute of Medicine convened a committee to review what data should appropriately be revealed from genomics research that leads to clinical trials. This committee is due to release its report early this year.
Unfortunately, the research community rarely addresses the problem of reproducibility so directly. Inadequate sharing is common to all scientific domains that use computers in their research today (most of science), and it hampers transparency.
By making the underlying data and computer code conveniently available, scientists could open a new era of innovation and growth. In October, the White House released a memorandum titled “Accelerating Technology Transfer and Commercialization of Federal Research in Support of High-Growth Businesses,” which outlines ways for federal funding agencies to improve the rate of technology transfer from government-financed laboratories to the private business sector.

As Jon Claerbout, a professor emeritus of geophysics at Stanford University, has noted, scientific publication isn’t scholarship itself, but only the advertising of scholarship. The actual work -- the steps needed to reproduce the scientific finding -- must be shared.  

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