Reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research: improving research practice

29 Oct 2015

Recent reports in both the general and scientific media show there is increasing concern within the biomedical research community about the lack of reproducibility of key research findings. If too many results are irreproducible, it could hinder scientific progress, delay translation into clinical applications and waste valuable resource. It also threatens the reputation of biomedical science and the public’s trust in its findings. To explore how to improve and optimise the reproducibility of biomedical research, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Wellcome Trust held a small symposium in April 2015.

The process of scientific research involves conducting experiments to test and/ or generate a hypothesis. Results of these experiments are collected and analysed, and then shared with the wider research community through publication. Science progresses as hypotheses are further generated and tested, building on existing findings. Such progress requires that studies are rigorous and the findings reproducible.

Sometimes the results of an experiment may not be reproducible, i.e. when the study is repeated under similar conditions, the same results are not obtained. While a study may be poorly conducted, or even on rare occasions fraudulent, irreproducibility could happen for many legitimate reasons. For example, in biomedical research, it might be due to the natural variability in biological systems or to small changes in conditions. Consequently, there is acceptance in the scientific community that some irreproducibility will occur, but there are concerns about its current scale.

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