Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bias of the ages

Yesterday I had an interesting exchange at the optogenetics social (which by the way was the best social I've attended, thank you Ed Boyden!). Someone there was upset with how neuroscience works at the moment (or rather doesn't) and I guess he has a point.

Jerry Simpson is also saying this to me all the time, although in a different way. Yesterday I ran into him at the posters (like I do five times a day). When he said goodbye he said: "I'm going to have a look what things are presented that have already been done in the 60's!"

The current focus on optogenetics brings back memories doesn't it? In the early 2000's the human genome project was officially finished. The predictions for the results and benefits of the project were huge. Francis Collins, the director of the human genome project actually said that in ten years there would be genetic tests for many common conditions. Some more enthousiastic people even stated that cancer would be eradicated within the next ten years or so. How wrong has history proven them to be.

Now in the optogenetics era we have the risk of falling for the same false ideas. Like I wrote in a previous post, science is not about techniques, it should always be about questions.
There probably is much redundant research. People compete for the hottest, newest results in the most high-impact journals. The people who arrive at the same conclusions, but just a month later have big problems to publish the data while their study might actually be better! Also, people tend to repeat older studies with new techniques without any clear reasons to do so. Then the newest study is marked as new results and older material is lost in the ages. Google and Pubmed also play a role in this novelty-bias. Which results do these search engines show? Indeed, the newest ones.

If anyone has a good idea how to avoid redundancy in research, how to convince people to take into account all those older studies, how to convince journals that 'new' does not mean 'good', please tell me. We should all be able to work out a solution.


brainteresting said...

What is in your opinion, the difference between redundancy and replication?

Neuro Nerd said...

The difference between redundancy and replication is in the total content of the study presented. Replication of course is very important in science. But when a study only replicates older data, but with a newer technique it is redundant. Scientists should answer new questions. And in the process of answering these they should check the basis of their work with controls and first experiments. These controls are the replications of scientific work.