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Too Much of a Good Thing?

Mina Bissell, a cancer researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, writes in Nature that while efforts to make research more reproducible are praiseworthy, they may have unintended side effects such as "shelving promising research and unfairly damag[ing] the reputations of careful, meticulous scientists."

She argues that researchers trying to duplicate others' work, "often do not have the time, funding, or resources to gain the same expertise with the experimental protocol as the original authors." Citing her research career as an example, she writes that over the last decade, "every paper published on which I have been senior author has taken between four and six years to complete … People in my lab often need months — if not a year — to replicate some of the experiments we have done."

She adds that "if a researcher spends six months, say, trying to replicate such work and reports that it is irreproducible, that can deter other scientists from pursuing a promising line of research, jeopardize the original scientists' chances of obtaining funding to continue it themselves, and potentially damage their reputations."

Her solution is for replicators to consult with the original authors — going as far as dropping in on their labs and conducting the experiments together. She also suggests that journals "set aside a small space to publish short, peer-reviewed reports from groups that get together to collaboratively solve reproducibility problems, describing their trials and tribulations in detail."