Meta-science

Scientists are concerned with the irreproducibility of scientific findings. Across medicine, psychology, economics, genetics, there is accumulating evidence that findings are smaller, less robust, or simply less true, than originally believed. Such concerns have given rise to the field of meta-science, which uses quantifiable methodologies to understand how scientific practices influence the veracity of scientific conclusions.

To date, the understanding of reproducibility has been impeded by two related challenges: 1) the lack of transparency of the scientific record, and 2) the retrospective nature of reproducibility studies. The suggestion that reproducibility issues are due to publication bias and selective reporting hinges on the presumption of a large body of unpublished studies with contrary or null outcomes. Although the possible existence of such studies can hardly be doubted, the contribution of unpublished findings to reproducibility issues is difficult to assess. Compounding this, replications of published studies are of little value in and of themselves in establishing why initial studies frequently report inflated results

Our project aims to overcome those obstacles. We are conducting a multi-site prospective replication study. Four labs are engaged in their business-as-usual investigations to discover new experimental effects. As new effects are discovered, they are systematically replicated by the originating and the other labs. In so doing, this project both assesses the individual hypotheses explored in each study, and provides the context for a deeper meta-scientific understanding. We will evaluate the evidence for different accounts of variation in the reproducibility of scientific findings, including: false positive effects, selective reporting, publication bias, and changes in procedure or sampling.

This project has three primary goals: 1) To develop a gold standard for replication protocol, in which every effort is made to design experiments and implement replications in a manner that will maximize the likelihood of full replication. 2) To examine whether the replications of newly devised experimental protocols are associated with declining effect sizes, even when all reasonable efforts are made to minimize such declines. 3) If declining effect sizes are still observed, to identify their possible cause, for example, by assessing whether other labs can replicate the findings as effectively as the originating lab.

The project is implementing the following meta-scientific innovations: 1) Exclusively conducting replications of newly devised experiments. When replications are made of previously published experiments, there is no way to assess how many unpublished studies and/or analyses are hidden from view. We eliminate this concern by focusing on newly devised experiments, developed and reported in full. 2) Carefully logging all aspects of the research protocols and analyses. By including a complete record of all aspects of the research process (paradigm development, methodology, population demographics, all analyses), we maximize the likelihood of a good replication, but also leave the necessary evidence for identifying why a finding might not replicate. 3)  Tightly constraining and adequately powering all studies. In order to maximize the comparability and statistical power of the studies, all experiments will be constrained to the same highly powered design:1500 participants invited from a census-distributed sample with two conditions and a primary dependent measure. 4) Engaging in multiple replication attempts. All studies will be replicated by each of the participating laboratories, thereby providing a powerful test of the robustness of each effect. 5) Systematic blinding of the outcomes of studies. In order to assess the possible impact of knowing the outcomes of findings on subsequent replications, the project manipulates the timing at which the outcomes of replication studies are analyzed and reported to the rest of the team.

 

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Jonathan Schooler

My lab’s research takes a “big picture” perspective in attempting to understand the nature of mental life, and in particular consciousness. Combining empirical, philosophical, and contemplative traditions, we address broad questions that cross traditional disciplinary boundaries.

John Protzko

John Protzko's current research explores the field of meta-science, studying the assumptions and processes of science and scientists.