THE MESS IN PSYCHOLOGY AND OTHER SCIENCES TOO
You’d think that the just-published Science paper, recounting a massive attempt at replication of 100 selected research projects published in the top psychology journals in 2008, would be cause for much beating of breasts. It showed that only a little more than a third of the papers came up with results consistent with the original study the researchers were trying to confirm. Joel Achenbach describes the findings and the background with his usual cogency at Speaking of Science.
On its face the finding sounds like a disaster, not just for psychology but for the already-battered image of science and the validity of the scientific method. And indeed, low replication rates have been reported for other fields of science too.
But so far much of the commentary on the psychology paper is determinedly looking on the bright side. Christian Jarrett’s post for the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest is typical.
Jarrett concluded, “This may sound like a disappointing day for psychology, but in fact really the opposite is true. Through the Reproducibility Project, psychology and psychologists are blazing a trail, helping shed light on a problem that afflicts all of science, not just psychology.”
Just last week the fine science journalist Christie Aschwanden assured readers at FiveThirtyEight that science isn’t broken. The hed on her post reporting on the new paper carries on with that theme, adding a redemptive twist: “The Scientific Method: Psychology Is Starting To Deal With Its Replication Problem.”
To be fair, there’s truth in that hed. The replication study was an immense project involving hundreds of scientists seeking to identify problems with the research in their field and do something about them. But there are other efforts too.
One example: A dozen journals are participating in the Registered Reports project, a procedure for reviewing and accepting research project proposals before data are collected. This could help cut down on publication bias–the inclination of journals to publish only papers with positive results. It is part of the OpenScience Collaboration, which is exploiting newly possible aspects of the Web for increasing science’s trustworthiness. Katie Palmer describes some at Wired.
At Retraction Watch, statistician Jelte M. Wicherts describes a number of kinds of defiencies in psychological (and other) research to Alison McCook, but declares, “this study shows that psychology is cleaning up its act.”
BIOHACKERS EMBRACE GENE EDITING/CRISPR
It was inevitable, given the (relative) ease of using gene-editing techniques like CRISPR to try to alter cells and organisms, that biohackers would launch their own explorations into gene editing. Biohackers–amateur scientists who pursue life sciences projects on their own time, often in community labs–and some of their projects are the subject of Heidi Ledford’s piece at Nature News, summarized at Genome Web and Popular Science.
As you might expect, the projects described are benign, among them attempts to make vegan cheese and distinctive beers. No obvious bioweapons here, which may have something to do with the fact that the FBI’s Bioterrorism Protection Team is keeping an eye on biohackers and has urged them to keep an eye on each other, according to Ledford.
Meanwhile, other biohackers are turning themselves into cyborgs. At The Verge’s What’s Tech, Chris Plante interviews biohacker Adi Robertson to find out why.
And at The Guardian’s architecture and design blog, Oliver Wainwright writes about Professor Stelarc, an Australian performance artist who has grown himself a third ear. On his arm. There’s a photo. Stelarc says he wants to equip it with wi-fi and GPS tracking so that people can follow his travels.
Wainwright also describes other DIY cyborg projects, including an academic with nervous system implants, a music lover with a graft of permanent headphones, and a computer programmer who lost half a finger in an accident and replaced it with a removable 2GB flash drive. That last one actually sounds like a reasonable idea.
Note that this news is brought to us not in a science blog but in an architecture and design blog.
ANOTHER GENE EDITING/CRISPR UPDATE
You may recall that Chinese scientists reported attempted gene editing of human embryos in April, discussed here at On Science Blogs. It didn’t go well; results were all over the place.
There was some bioethical flap about the project because it involved human embryos, but it appeared ethically sound to me because the embryos were to be discarded anyhow and could not have survived. However, the failure was also reassuring in a way. As I observed, “that failure may give us a bit of breathing room to figure out what should be done about genetic tinkering with an embryo that will affect that person-to-be’s descendants.”
Now comes Kevin Loria at TechInsider to tell us that the reason the Chinese research turned out so badly is that the researchers were doing it wrong. Loria interviews a number of Western scientists and concludes, “There are (and were) far more accurate versions of the gene-editing tool they used (CRISPR/Cas-9), and many researchers have been able to edit cells and even animal embryos with almost zero unwanted or unexpected changes.”
And therefore the ability to edit human embryos successfully may not so far off as it seemed in April.