masthead_37.jpg
Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Loss Of Confidence Project' Prods Scientists to Do the Right Thing

A new project aims to get scientists to take another look at work that can't be reproduced.
Elsa Partan
/
A new project aims to get scientists to take another look at work that can't be reproduced.

It’s not easy to admit that you’ve been wrong. But everyone makes mistakes and scientists are no different.

But when a researcher makes a poor choice in the lab or misinterprets his or her results, and that becomes part of the permanent scientific record, that can have far-reaching implications.

A new project is offering scientists who later change their opinions or discount their previous data an opportunity to make that known to others so that the whole field can benefit. It’s called the Loss of Confidence Project.

“A recent project looked at 98 high-profile psychology papers from three journals and only around 39 percent of those were reproducable,” said Dalmeet Singh Chawla, a journalist who wrote about the project for UnDark magazine.

There was a similar finding for a group of scientific papers about cancer.    

Chawla told Living Lab Radio that the lack of reproducibility doesn’t mean that the science was done in bad faith or recklessly, it just means it's time to flag the work for further study. 

“That’s where the Loss of Confidence Project fits in,” he said. “If you no longer believe a study that you used to, let’s come forward and say that. But the condition is the author coming forward must be willing to take responsibility for the methodological and theoretical problems with that paper.”

Elsa Partan is a producer for Living Lab Radio. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.