The Back Story on “Can cancer researchers accurately judge whether preclinical reports will reproduce?

How well can researchers accurately predict whether high profile preclinical findings will reproduce? This week in PLoS Biology, STREAM reports the result of a study suggesting the answer is “not very well.” You can read about our methods, assumptions, results, claims, etc. in the original report (here) or in various press coverage (here and here). Instead I will use this blog entry to reflect on how we pulled this paper off.

This was a bear of a study to complete. For many reasons. Studying experts is difficult- partly because, by definition, experts are scarce. They also have limited time. Defining who is and who is not an expert is also difficult. Another challenge is studying basic and preclinical research. Basic and preclinical researchers do not generally follow pre-specified protocols, and they certainly do not register their protocols publicly. This makes it almost impossible to conduct forecasting studies in this realm. We actually tried a forecast study asking PI’s to forecast the results of experiments in their lab (we hope to write up results at a later date); to our surprise, a good many planned experiments were never done, or when they were done, they were done differently than originally intended, rendering forecasts irrelevant. So when it became clear the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology project was a go and that they were working with pre-specified and publicly registered protocols, we leapt at the opportunity.

For our particular study of preclinical research forecast, there was another challenge. Early on, we were told that the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology was controversial.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.