Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Research Replicated

In Good Scientist! You Get a Badge ["Precious research money is wasted on unreal results, but we can change the culture of science."] Carl Zimmer presents some shocking evidence of research results that fail the replication test:

C. Glenn Begley, who spent a decade in charge of global cancer research at the biotech giant Amgen, recently dispatched 100 Amgen scientists to replicate 53 landmark experiments in cancer—the kind of experiments that lead pharmaceutical companies to sink millions of dollars to turn the results into a drug. In March Begley published the results: They failed to replicate 47 of them.

He then goes on to describe an interesting new initiative:

After her own rough experience with replication, [Elizabeth] Iorns went on to become an assistant professor at the University of Miami. Last year she also became an entrepreneur, starting up a firm called Science Exchange that brings together scientists with companies that can perform the services they need—everything from sequencing DNA to producing a genetically engineered mouse. And today she’s using Science Exchange to launch a service called the Reproducibility Initiative. If it works, it could be a strong medicine for what ails science these days.

Here’s how it is supposed to work. Let’s say you have found a drug that shrinks tumors. You write up your results, which are sexy enough to get into Nature or some other big-name journal. You also send the Reproducibility Initiative the details of your experiment and request that someone reproduce it. A board of advisers matches you up with a company with the experience and technology to do the job. You pay them to do the job—Iorns estimates the bill for replication will be about 10 percent of the original research costs—and they report back whether they got the same results.