The replication crisis has spread through science – can it be fixed?

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It started in psychology, but now findings in many scientific fields are proving impossible to replicate. Here’s what researchers are doing to restore science’s reputation


6 April 2022

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Andrea Ucini

I HAVE a confession to make: some of the articles that have appeared in New Scientist, including ones I have written, are wrong. Not because we deliberately misled you. No, our reports were based on research by respected scientists at top universities, published in peer-reviewed journals. Yet, despite meeting all the normal standards of credibility, some findings turned out to be false.

Science is in the throes of what is sometimes called the replication crisis, so named because a big hint that a scientific study is wrong is when other teams try to repeat it and get a different result. While some fields, such as psychology, initially seemed more liable than others to generate such “fake news”, almost every area of science has since come under suspicion. An entire field of genetics has even turned out to be nothing but a mirage. Of course, we should expect testing to overturn some findings. The replication crisis, though, stems from wholesale flaws baked into the systems and institutions that support scientific research, which not only permit bad scientific practices, but actually encourage them. And, if anything, things have been getting worse over the past few decades.

Yet as awareness of the problem has grown, so have efforts to tackle it. So, how are these opposing forces faring? Will the efforts to combat fake science succeed? And how can you know if the research you read about in New Scientist and elsewhere will ever make it out of the lab and start working in the real world?

It is hard to pinpoint when the replication crisis began, but many people got their first …


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