Reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research

In April 2015, a symposium was held on how to improve the reproducibility of biomedical research. It was attended by scientists from research institutions, funding bodies and scientific journals.

A report summarizing the symposium was published in November of last year. A very readable document, the report discusses various factors that contribute to poor reproducibility, as well as various recommendations that key stakeholders can adopt to help remedy the situation.

Factors that contribute to poor reproducibility

Those attending the symposium agreed that there is no single cause for irreproducibility. Poor experimental design, inappropriate analysis and questionable research practices can all impact the reproducibility of a study and its findings. More endemic factors such as a highly competitive research environment and the high value placed on novelty and publication in high-profile journals were also identified as possible factors.

Some of the key practices that can contribute to poor reproducibility were summarized in an easy-to-understand figure:


problems

Source: The Academy of Medical Sciences.

 

Strategies to address poor reproducibility

As part of the symposium, key strategies to address factors that lead to poor reproducibility were identified. There strategies were nicely summarized in a figure:


solutions

Source: The academy of Medical Sciences

In addition to these specific strategies, it was identified that certain overarching factors are needed to drive the implementation of these strategies. These include:

 

  1. Environment and culture. Robust science and the validity of research findings must be the primary objective of the incentive structure. These should be valued above novel findings and publication in high-impact journals.
  2. Raise awareness among researchers. Researchers need to be educated about the importance of reproducibility and how to achieve it.
  3. Continuing education and training that improves research methods and statistical knowledge. This should be targeted at individuals across career stages.
  4. Advice from experts in statistics and experimental design. These should be made more readily available and sought at the beginning of a project.
  5. Technology and infrastructure. These should be in place to help deliver better reproducibility (e.g., data capture and sharing).
  6. Talking openly. The research community should discuss challenges of delivering reproducible results.
  7. Global approach. Everyone involved in the scientific and research process, from students and researchers to funding agencies and journals, must act together and deliver solutions both locally and nationally, but also internationally. Cultural change will take time.

Summary

The report from this symposium reflects the wisdom and experience of many experts in the field of biomedical research and research reproducibility. As a topic that is still difficult to broach for some, this document serves as a good starting point. Why not print a copy of the figure summarizing key issues and ways to address them and post it in your lunch room, your office door or the notice board?! Maybe send a copy of the report to a colleague and ask them if they have considered how to include some of these strategies in your next study.

The key point it to talk openly about the issues and solutions. Incorporating the suggested strategies may require extra effort at first, but it will pay off in the long run. Be part of the lead peloton rather than the chase pack.

 

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