The penny drops

By | Science & Technology
Trinity college library Dublin.Credit@Diliffwikipedia

New research into the transparency and reproducibility of biomedical research, suggests ways to improve the quality of these studies and how this may be achieved. The study focused on whether a large number of studies may be capable of being repeated.

With an increasing interest in the reliability of scientific research special attention may be focused on the actual methods of science and how these may operate. With the media refocusing this attention on particular topics like health, sugar and climate change this might have opened a public discussion on the credibility of specific scientific research.

How an individual assesses broader research may be a complex process where certain research may have been omitted from mass communication to the public. Tools to help individuals decide which scientific research may be trusted are far from easy to find and usually written in complex language for an individual to decipher. On important political decisions the public may need to be well informed of what is being communicated in any scientific journal, how the public is persuaded may then lead to imperative decisions being made based on this. The media adds to the challenge by often publicising contradictory research in specific fields daily and on topics like health and medicine; it is also critical research is trustworthy with far reaching ramifications.

For theories and research to be taken seriously it may need to be constantly validated by replicated research. Albert Einstein’s theories on general relativity are examples of this which epitomise simplicity and are reproduced many times and in different environments, including outer space. When these procedures are incorporated the result may be more accurate knowledge, especially when contrary interests are involved. Averting these procedures may result for example in the practices of mainstream economists prior to 2007/2008, although until this time the science diverged; requiring a code of ethics. Therefore, the actual practices of science in areas where contrary interests may dominate need strong codes of ethics.

This science on science approach has been pursued by new research by Iqbal and colleagues from the Meta-research innovation centre at Stanford University and Emory University, which analysed biomedical research from 2000 to 2014 to examine how the research makes key information available so proper evaluation and replication may take place. Out of the 441 articles evaluated only one provided a full protocol of data including protocols, complete data, how frequently novel information was revealed and whether it was replicated. The majority of studies abstained from including funding or contrary interests and replication studies to validate them were very rare. The finding was zero papers made all the necessary data available for an individual to make sense of the findings or to allow another team to replicate them.

The team observed how the reduced replicability and transparency decreases the value of this research. Currently, several biomedical journals have started encouraging authors to include protocols, datasets and to disclose information on funding and any potential contrary interests. The result of research like Iqbal and colleagues work may influence journals to attain a higher standard and publish timeless articles; it may also highlight what is quality research and what needs to be included to be considered this.

The team suggested many solutions to reduced transparency in this research and to guarantee reproducibility. Firstly, allowing other researchers to be actually capable of repeating the process and findings with complete data and protocols. Reanalyses of clinical data may also support scientists to assess the validity of published trial results and independent investigation verifying authentic replication as may happen in genetic replication studies. The authors also advised primary data to be included in reviews and meta-analyses which normally give a broad examination and confirmation of a topic.

The constructive strength of this research is it may establish ways in which research might become more transparent and reproducible, by highlighting bias and reduced replicability inherent in certain research. Funding of research which encompasses reproducibility may also be more beneficial financially to the public and to the quality of the knowledge bank of science.

How might individuals be able to check the validity of information communicated via any media?

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