A practicing biologist's perspective on reproducibility and science reform



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Pamela Reinagel, Department of Neurobiology, University of California, San Diego

In recent years there has been much discussion of rigor, reliability and reproducibility in the scientific community. Less often does one hear a discussion of what these terms mean or why they are the correct measures of value in science. Some metascience analyses, reproducibility projects, and proposed science reforms appear to make naive assumptions about the goals, methods, and products of biological basic research -- particularly where these differ from the social sciences or the more public-facing clinical branches of biology. Drawing on nearly four decades at the bench, this talk will share one biologist's perspective on how biologists actually draw conclusions from experiments, what kinds of conclusions those are, what factors influence our judgements about their validity, certainty, or generality, and what attributes of biological systems necessitate or facilitate these particular approaches. I will focus on the implications for how we risk reaching wrong conclusions, whether or how we discover such errors, how the rigor of a single contribution or an entire field might be reasonably communicated or assessed, and what new practices could serve to improve the value of biology research. I'll argue that the relationship between Biology and Statistics is so problematic it needs a complete reboot. Meanwhile, the highly qualitative and integrative nature of inferential reasoning in Biology, with its strong dependence on deep, domain-specific theoretical and technical knowledge, presents a severe impediment to non-expert assessments or formulaic reforms. Philosophers, historians, and sociologists of science are all needed here: the better we could describe, codify, justify, and communicate our diverse scientific methods, the better we could do our work, educate new generations of scientists, and earn public trust.

the Many Faces of Reproducibility project Public lecture presented on Thursday, February 10, 2022, University of Minnesota
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