New Report Examines Reproducibility and Replicability in Science, Recommends Ways to Improve Transparency and Rigor in Research

National Academies of Sciences: “While computational reproducibility in scientific research is generally expected when the original data and code are available, lack of ability to replicate a previous study — or obtain consistent results looking at the same scientific question but with different data — is more nuanced and occasionally can aid in the process of scientific discovery, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  Reproducibility and Replicability in Science recommends ways that researchers, academic institutions, journals, and funders should help strengthen rigor and transparency in order to improve the reproducibility and replicability of scientific research.

Defining Reproducibility and Replicability

The terms “reproducibility” and “replicability” are often used interchangeably, but the report uses each term to refer to a separate concept.  Reproducibility means obtaining consistent computational results using the same input data, computational steps, methods, code, and conditions of analysis.  Replicability means obtaining consistent results across studies aimed at answering the same scientific question, each of which has obtained its own data.   

Reproducing research involves using the original data and code, while replicating research involves new data collection and similar methods used in previous studies, the report says.  Even when a study was rigorously conducted according to best practices, correctly analyzed, and transparently reported, it may fail to be replicated. 

“Being able to reproduce the computational results of another researcher starting with the same data and replicating a previous study to test its results facilitate the self-correcting nature of science, and are often cited as hallmarks of good science,” said Harvey Fineberg, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and chair of the committee that conducted the study.  “However, factors such as lack of transparency of reporting, lack of appropriate training, and methodological errors can prevent researchers from being able to reproduce or replicate a study.  Research funders, journals, academic institutions, policymakers, and scientists themselves each have a role to play in improving reproducibility and replicability by ensuring that scientists adhere to the highest standards of practice, understand and express the uncertainty inherent in their conclusions, and continue to strengthen the interconnected web of scientific knowledge — the principal driver of progress in the modern world.”….(More)”.