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The Path Well Taken

Some fields get stuck in a rut and similar studies are repeated over and over again, Nature News says.

Courtenay Norbury, a psychologist at University College London, last week noticed a new study that came to the same conclusions as a paper she wrote 12 years ago, and this prompted her to wonder how many replications are enough to consider moving the field forward. It's the opposite, the University of Oxford's Dorothy Bishop notes in a tweet, of the reproducibility crisis.

"It is obvious that not publishing when something doesn't work is bad, but so is doing the same thing over and over again without learning something new," Brett Buttliere, a research assistant at the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media, tells Nature News.

And it's not just psychology. Ginny Barbour from the Australasian Open Access Support Group notes in a tweet that clinical trials often continue even after meta-analyses of interventions have found certainty.

Nature News notes that the threshold for reproducibility may differ from place to place — the US Food and Drug Administration, it adds, requires at least two positive randomized control trials that indicate that a drug is effective. In addition, it says that some researchers may not be aware of all the prior reports — a study of 1,523 clinical trial reports found that each report tended to only cite a quarter of the previous relevant papers.

While replication is important, Norbury, who is an editor of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, tells Nature News that "my heart sometimes sinks when I see yet another paper exploring what I consider to be well-trodden ground. I'm not looking for 'sexy' findings, but I am looking for something that has the potential to change practice or move the field forward."