Response to New York Times article on research reproducibility

April 16, 2012 | Posted by Elizabeth in Research |

Earlier today the New York Times posted an article about the retraction of non-reproducible research (“A Sharp Rise in Retractions Prompts Calls for Reform“).

It’s great to see the New York Times publicize this issue, which was also the focus of a recent blog post I wrote on the lack of reproducibility in research.

In that post I provided some suggestions that could potentially help address the problem of non-reproducible research. I believe the starting point should be the incentives that drive scientists – namely reputation and grant money (of course scientists are also driven by curiosity and a desire to improve the world but these are not factors that determine which scientists are successful and actually become tenured professors). The current system actually discourages collaboration because scientists who share ideas, data and resources may miss out on a publication (get “scooped”) and this will result in them missing out on grants and career progression. This obviously creates a self selecting system where successful scientists are those that do not collaborate.

There are, however, examples where the incentives against collaboration aren’t as strong. Core facilities, who provide scientific experiments on a fee-for-service basis, are judged on revenue and feedback from the users of their facility rather than from publications and grants.

At Science Exchange we’re aiming to make this the norm for all researchers. We believe every scientist can be an expert who, rather than bartering experiments or learning to do every technique themselves, will be able to ‘trade’ scientific experiments in exchange for the market dollar value. This would dramatically increase collaboration, as scientists would receive ‘grants’ from these collaborations, and promotions could be based not only on publications but also on the quantity of collaborations, the impact of these collaborations and by the feedback obtained from collaborators. We think this could dramatically improve the quality of scientific research.

There are so many exciting opportunities to change the current system of research – I would welcome any ideas you may have!


About the author

Elizabeth Iorns is Co-Founder & CEO of Science Exchange. Elizabeth conceived the idea for Science Exchange while an Assistant Professor at the University of Miami and as CEO she drives the company’s vision, strategy and growth. She is passionate about creating a new way to foster scientific collaboration that will break down existing silos, democratize access to scientific expertise and accelerate the speed of scientific discovery. Elizabeth has a B.S. in Biomedical Science from the University of Auckland, a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and conducted postdoctoral research in Cancer Biology from the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine where her research focused on identifying mechanisms of breast cancer development and progression.

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