The Reproducibility Crisis


Ever since I was a boy, I’ve had an issue with text books. These sacred tomes filled with confident assertions offered a steadfast view of the universe I lived in, but when I peeked into the text books of others I learned we were each living in a different universe.

Different than my friends’

When I looked at the text books of my friends, who went to other schools, the science they learned was different than my science. It was as if they lived in a different universe. I say that because, the books never said “this is what we think” or “this is our guess about how this works”. No no no no. They said “this is what we know” or “these are the facts”. So at Loma Verde Elementary, the facts were quite different than at Castle Park or Wolf Canyon. Nevermind that the facts were in Spanglish at my Loma Verde—that wasn’t the big deal—it’s that they were as if from another universe than at CP or WC.

Different than my parents

Most of us have had the feeling that our parents are from a different universe. Well I can say with assuredness that my parents truly are from another. How do I know this? I know because I’ve read my mother’s 6th grade science tome. In it, dinosaurs are lizards—not in any way related to birds. In my mom’s universe, the 1990s were filled with flying cars. My 1990s were filled with false promises of the type of bullet train Nihon seemingly had for decades, and a Britney Spears video that sent horomones into overdrive.

School’s Out

The localized reality distortion fields didn’t cease to exist outside of the educational sphere. I could barely turn the corner toward the local market or turn on the TV without another scientific “fact” being blurted out at me.

There is no truth, only sugary refreshment

When Mulder said the truth is out there, he should have also told me it takes as many forms as there are blog posts and subtweets. While it always struck me as odd that scientists always know the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth—and yet change their mind every 5 minutes—that doesn’t seem to strike anyone else as anything other than awesome. Take The Coca-Cola Company for instance! They spend millions of pounds each year on British scientists that use their exceptional Anglo-Saxon brain power to invent whatever universal truths Coca-Cola asks them to. That’s the Union Jack promise! And while we’re all grateful for CC proving that Mexican Coke is healthy, there’s a greater yarn spinning factory out yonder. That factory is the medical research establishment.

Curing cancer one irreproducible study at a time

Here’s where I get serious—serious enough to stop telling a stupid story and get to the cold hard facts. Essentially, next time you hear there’s a new cure or big breakthrough in cancer reasearch, that might not mean much beyond a scientist getting an award and a few that-a-boys stuffed with Canadian dollars and Prosecco popsicles. The reason?

“…Clinical trials in oncology have the highest failure rate…barriers to clinical development [are] lower than for other disease areas, and a larger number of drugs with suboptimal preclinical validation will enter oncology trials.”

Translation? You don’t need to prove your oncological results to make money or gain respect from them. But don’t listen to my irreproducible blog post. Read the facts: