Home Science Study: Scientific Reproducibility Is Not Scientific Truth

Study: Scientific Reproducibility Is Not Scientific Truth

Reproducible scientific results are not always true and true scientific results are not always reproducible, according to a mathematical model produced by University of Idaho researchers. Their study, which simulates the search for that scientific truth, was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Independent confirmation of scientific results — known as reproducibility — lends credibility to a researcher’s conclusion. But researchers have found the results of many well-known science experiments cannot be reproduced, an issue referred to as a “replication crisis.”

Berna Devezer, lead author of the study and U of I associate professor of marketing in the College of Business and Economics, said:

Devezer and her colleagues investigated the relationship between reproducibility and the discovery of scientific truths by building a mathematical model that represents a scientific community working toward finding a scientific truth. In each simulation, the scientists are asked to identify the shape of a specific polygon.

The modeled scientific community included multiple scientist types, each with a different research strategy, such as performing highly innovative experiments or simple replication experiments. Devezer and her colleagues studied whether factors like the makeup of the community, the complexity of the polygon and the rate of reproducibility influenced how fast the community settled on the true polygon shape as the scientific consensus and the persistence of the true polygon shape as the scientific consensus.

Within the model, the rate of reproducibility did not always correlate with the probability of identifying the truth, how fast the community identified the truth, or whether the community stuck with the truth once they identified it. These findings indicate reproducible results are not synonymous with finding the truth, Devezer said.

Compared to other research strategies, highly innovative research tactics resulted in a quicker discovery of the truth. According to the study, a diversity of research strategies protected against ineffective research approaches and optimized desirable aspects of the scientific process.

Variables including the makeup of the community and complexity of the true polygon influenced the speed scientists discovered the truth and persistence of that truth, suggesting the validity of scientific results should not be automatically blamed on questionable research practices or problematic incentives, Devezer said.

Both have been pointed to as drivers of the “replication crisis.” Erkan Buzbas, U of I assistant professor in the College of Science, Department of Statistical Science and a co-author on the paper, said:

Provided by: University of Idaho [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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Troy Oakes
Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

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