A mind-boggling $28 billion is spent annually on irreproducible biomedical research, a new study in PLOS Biology suggests. Scientists hope to spark a discussion on the inefficiencies in research with the results of their bold study and call for a ‘paradigm shift’ to solve this problem, which they suggest is entirely avoidable.
Reproducibility is the cornerstone of scientific research. If a study can be replicated by different independent scientists under the same conditions and the same results are produced, it’s generally seen as an indicator of good, reliable research. But if this fails to be the case, scientists have to question the validity of the methodology and analysis. Researchers from Global Biological Standards Institute have quantified how often this happens and arrived at a huge number: $28 billion.
“The problem of reproducibility has been widely discussed,” said Iain M. Cockburn, co-author of the study and an economist at Boston University, in a statement. “To develop our estimate of the current reproducibility rate for preclinical research, we reviewed publicly available data from government sources, industry and analyst reports and scientific articles.”
The researchers looked at existing papers that attempted to quantify the factors that contribute to irreproducibility and then grouped the causes into four categories: biological reagents and reference materials, study design, data analysis and reporting and laboratory protocols. They found that flawed biological reagents and reference materials, such as contaminated cell lines, contributed the most to irreproducibility (38%), followed by study design (28%). Researchers do, however, admit to Nature News that their analysis was limited to the data available to them, but suggest that addressing this problem will save money and support better research.
“Improving reproducibility levels will require a measured investment in time and resources,” said Cockburn. “We recommend investing in practical solutions and taking immediate steps in the areas where there will be the greatest return on investment.”
Other researchers are skeptical of the results of the study, with microbiologist Ferric Fang from the University of Washington telling Science magazine that the finding “sounds sensationalistic.”
“To suggest that 50% of research dollars are being wasted is ridiculous and unhelpful,” he added.
Freedman does tell Nature News that the message of the study is less about the amount of money ‘wasted,’ but an opportunity “to increase efficiencies to get more bang for the buck.”
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