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Recent Research: Auditing NIH-funded studies would improve reproducibility of scientific research

August 09, 2018
By: Robert Ksiazkiewicz

Approximately 30.2 percent of NIH-funded research studies produce false positive results that make those studies not replicable by other researchers, according to a recent study from researchers at Queensland University of Technology (AU). The authors of the study contend that the reproducibility crisis is driven by “publish or perish” incentives to increase the quantity of their papers at the cost of quality. They contend this publish or perish mentality is most prevalent at large, established “parent” labs (those with 50 or more NIH-funded papers). In these labs, established researchers, young researchers, and students are under pressure to publish their work leading to methodological and other process mistakes that create false positives and reduce reproducibility.

To address this issue, the study proposes that NIH would only need to audit about 1.94 percent of funded research papers at an average annual cost of $15.9 million. By auditing less than 2 percent of all NIH-funded research studies, the number of false positives would reduce from 30.2 percent of papers to 12.3 percent of papers. They also contend that NIH can create competitive spiral that favors quantity over quality by detecting and removing labs with a high proportion of false positives from future funding consideration. By restructuring the incentive structure to focus more on quality and less on quantity, this new competitive spiral should greatly improve the quality of research coming from large, established “parent” labs due to the threat of removal from future NIH funding.

The most significant long-term impact, however, would be on improving the quality of future research coming from “child” labs (labs with less than 25 NIH-funded papers). The authors contend that the culture of “parent” labs, especially those that value quantity over quality, have a significant impact on the quality of future research conducted by the young researchers working in the labs. By changing the culture at “parent labs” to focus on quality, the next generation of researchers will value that when launching their own “child” labs.

 

recent research, r&d, nih