Monday, March 12, 2012

Can we make scientific reporting better?

Last year Carl Zimmer published an article in the New York Times Sunday Review describing why published scientific results are sometimes wrong and uncorrected. Scientists would rather do their own work than replicate the experiments of others, it takes time and resources to replicate those experiments, and Journals often refuse to publish reports of replications (months or years after the original study was done), preferring new and surprising results to challenges to earlier studies that support the ideas that those studies challenged.

His point is quite good. While scientific consensus does have epistemological value, published scientific results are not always right. Moreover, it takes time (and work) for the system to function well.

Interestingly, in the online version of Zimmer's article there is a note that the text has been changed to correct a factual error in the original. That suggests that scientific papers should always be published online, that the definitive version should be the online one, and that the online papers should be updated with corrections and linked to subsequent papers that replicate, support or challenge their results.

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