Scientists Tackle Challenge of Replicating Each Other’s Findings

In a perfect world, the experimental findings of every published study could be easily reproduced by other scientists. However, scientific researchers around the world have been finding that it can be a challenge to reproduce the results of studies that promise major breakthroughs, which pharmaceutical industry experts think has contributed to the rising costs of new drug production. Pharmaceutical research is becoming more expensive, and new drugs are growing increasingly rare. The number of new drugs is falling at a constant rate, while the cost of bringing a new one to market now costs more than $2.5 billion. While a variety of factors have caused these trends, one aspect pertains to the major foundation of the scientific method itself: replication.

Solid figures have been difficult to come by, but some companies have published findings on their research efforts. While searching for new treatments for cardiovascular disease and cancer, Bayer has reported that more than two-thirds of the studies that its company’s scientists attempted to replicate ran into significant difficulties. Meanwhile, after a decade of effort, Amgen found through its own tests that it was only able to replicate findings from six of 53 studies. These issues have not, however, stemmed the tide of new research. Every five years, the world’s library of medical literature doubles.

The ability to replicate scientific studies is filled with a number of challenges. Research has found that most of the issues are related to unclear studies and mundane mistakes. Efforts to combat these problems are underway. Top journals have created new rules seeking to expand the amount of experimental data included in each paper, and one new publication, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, has begun filming each step in the experiments to ease replication. Other efforts include programs like PsychFileDrawer and the nonprofit Center for Open Science, both of which publish the results of scientific studies that are in progress.

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