Scientific reproducibility does not equate to scientific truth, mathematical model finds

According to math model produced by a team from the University of Idaho, Reproducible scientific results are not always true and true scientific results are not always reproducible.

Researchers investigated the relationship between reproducibility and the discovery of scientific truths by building a mathematical model that represents a scientific community working toward finding a scientific truth. In each simulation, the scientists are asked to identify the shape of a specific polygon.

The modeled scientific community included multiple scientist types, each with a different research strategy, such as performing highly innovative experiments or simple replication experiments. Devezer and her colleagues studied whether factors like the makeup of the community, the complexity of the polygon and the rate of reproducibility influenced how fast the community settled on the true polygon shape as the scientific consensus and the persistence of the true polygon shape as the scientific consensus.

Within the model, the rate of reproducibility did not always correlate with the probability of identifying the truth, how fast the community identified the truth and whether the community stuck with the truth once they identified it. These findings indicate reproducible results are not synonymous with finding the truth, Devezer said.

Compared to other research strategies, highly innovative research tactics resulted in a quicker discovery of the truth.

“We found that, within the model, some research strategies that lead to reproducible results could actually slow down the scientific process, meaning reproducibility may not always be the best — or at least the only — indicator of good science,” said Erkan Buzbas, U of I assistant professor in the College of Science, Department of Statistical Science and a co-author on the paper. “Insisting on reproducibility as the only criterion might have undesirable consequences for scientific progress.”




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