No witchhunt anywhere – Tim Errington’s talk on the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology

How reproducible is cancer biology?” stood in bold letters on a poster I had designed to advertise a talk by Tim Errington, one of the leaders of the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology (RP:CB), in Cambridge a few weeks ago. And I had told everyone “Come and learn who’s good, who’s bad and who’s ugly in cancer research!”

The RP:CB results are collected at eLife and the splash they made was big enough to be covered by Nature and Science. So it was great to finally meet somebody leading this project to learn first-hand which ideas are guiding their work.

Tim’s talk had the rather technical title “Improving Openness and Reproducibility of Scientific Research.” You can easily see why I felt the need to spice things up. To get a lecture theatre full of people you need to promise them blood, not balanced and nuanced views (limitations I luckily have never been accused of myself).

With all the effort I had put into advertising the talk, the people at my institute knew what to expect: A witchhunt by a posse of replication vigilantes, who abuse money diverted from real science to name and shame the actually successfull researchers! Hang them higher! Yihaah!

When Tim arrived, he took one look at the way I had advertised the talk, gently shook his head, and said “Well, you can of course do this, but I wouldn’t. It’s not really important which study reproduces and which doesn’t.”

Wait, what?

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