Scientific Irreproducibility and Public Policy

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.

CounterCurrent: Week of 12/15

Here at NAS, we are deeply concerned about the irreproducibility crisis of modern science, that is to say, the degradation of the sciences through the increased proliferation of unreliable and irreproducible research. Scientific findings can be sullied in a variety of ways, however the most common include the flawed use of statistics, the influence of political groupthink, and a scientific culture biased toward producing positive results. While it is dangerous enough that this problem hinders scientific advancement within academia, it doesn’t stop there; the irreproducibility crisis also has tangible effects on public policy.

It’s standard practice for policymakers on both sides of the aisle to rely heavily on scientific data in order to craft legislation that is both precise and effective. However, this assumes that the data with which they are working is actually reliable. Especially when dealing with issues that are inherently scientific, such as climate change, those drafting legislation often knowingly use shoddy research to justify their party’s political goals. What’s worse, under current law, they are not even required to disclose the research they are using, preventing meaningful accountability. This leads to laws and regulations that are not grounded in reality, simultaneously damaging scientific credibility and placing significant financial burden on American consumers and businesses, who are estimated to spend up to $2 trillion dollars annually to comply with government regulations.

In this week’s featured article, The Hill’s Rick Manning further details the irreproducibility crisis’ effect on public policy, as well as potential reforms proposed by the Heritage Foundation, the EPA, and President Trump. The NAS has also outlined our own recommendations here. Essential to solving the irreproducibility problem is the requirement of policy makers to fully disclose the scientific research they are using, as well as why they are using it, such that said research can be independently reproduced and validated by the broader scientific community. This will also incentivize scientists to produce better research, as they will know that their work is subject to far greater scrutiny. In short, strict reproducibility requirements, among reforming additional incentives such as the rush to publish, will lead to better science, and better science will lead to better policy, a win-win for the scientific community and the American citizenry at large.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Andy Feliciotti, Public Domain

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