Volume 541 Number 7637 pp259-430 19 January 2017
Replication studies offer much more than technical details
They demonstrate the practice of science at its best.
Purists will tell you that science is about what scientists don’t know, which is true but not much of a basis on which to develop new cancer drugs. Hence the importance of knowledge: how crucial this mutation or that cell-surface receptor really is to cancer growth. These are the findings that launch companies and clinical trials — provided, of course, that they have been published in research papers in peer-reviewed journals.
As we report in a News story this week, a systematic effort to check some of these findings by repeating an initial five published cancer studies has reported that none could be completely reproduced. The significance of this divergence — how the specific experiments were selected and what the results mean for the broader agenda of reproducibility in research — is already hotly contested.
Perhaps the most influential aspect of the exercise, called the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology, has nothing to do with those arguments. It lies beneath the surface, in the peer reviews of the project teams’ replication plans, which were published before the studies began. These reviews can be read as part of the editorial decision letters linked to each replication plan, or ‘registered report’ (see go.nature.com/2jte08a)…