Practice What you Preach

(August 16th, 2016) When bold researchers meet courageous funding agencies; a new era of scientific integrity is about to begin. The Netherlands has launched the world’s first national fund dedicated to replication studies.

When the Dutch psychologists, Sander Koole and Daniël Lakens, published their paper on the importance of rewarding replication studies, they realised that simply spreading the word wasn’t enough. They needed to act to get their recommendations to finance the most fundamental scientific instrument (i.e. replication studies) put into practice. In a letter to the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), they made a strong case by comparing replication studies to a vegetable.

On his blog, Lakens recaps: “(…) performing replication research is like eating your veggies (Brussels sprouts, to be precise). Very few people get enthusiastic about vegetables, but if you don’t eat them you’ll never grow big and strong. Because researchers have spent all their money on sweets, science now has cavities. We need to stimulate healthier behavior. And thus NWO should fund replication research.”

After initial disagreement, followed by a tug of war, the NWO slowly became receptive to the psychologists’ idea, remembering the fundamental lesson we all get taught during University: replication is the very foundation of robust science. And four years after the initial contact, NWO is now making available €3 million over the next three years for a Replication Studies pilot programme in social and health sciences.

The pilot will focus on repeating “cornerstone research”: studies that have had a large impact on science (either through citations or because they have been continuously referred to in student textbooks), government policy, or public debate. It will deal with two types of research: reproduction (replication with existing data: the datasets from the original study are reanalysed) and replication (with new data: a data collection is put together, which is subjected to the same research protocol as in the original study). The call for proposals will be opened in September, with mid-December as the expected deadline.

This major step forward in making replication research a more mainstream part of scientific practice should be followed by scientific journals. By offering a decent outlet for publishing these foundation blocks of scientific integrity, science can truly progress.

Hedwig Ens

Photo: Kratochvil

Last Changes: 09.09.2016