The existential crisis of reproducibility of scientific research threatens trust and the principle of transparency in research results. Although different academic fields have distinct definitions for the reproducibility crisis, it could be generally described as the virtual absence of replication studies in published literature in many scientific fields. A key element of research is the raw data collected which could include figures, formulas, web links and pictures. This data is essential in reproducing and authenticating scientific results.
Hundreds of years from now, how will future scientists verify modern day findings if the data is all just dead links?
Global research output has grown by four percent annually over the last 10 years. The United States National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2020 stated that 2.5 million science and engineering articles were published around the world in 2018, which increased by 800,109 compared to the previous decade.
Reports show that many published scientific works cannot be reproduced despite the peer review process they were subjected to before being accepted for publishing.
The magnitude of the reproducibility problem was found in multiple projects including the Open Science Collaboration in 2015. It was found that fields such as medical, life and behavioral sciences were affected. Readers, academic centers, publishers, and others with stakes in academic research have expressed concerns over the crisis.
“A growing chorus of concern from scientists and lay people, contends that the complex system for ensuring the reproducibility of biomedical research is failing and is in need of restructuring,”
Francis Collins, a retired director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Lawrence Tabak, acting director of the NIH wrote this in a paper published in 2014.
Beyond the implication of the crisis on knowledge, and its application in solving real problems, is financial loss. Data from a 2015 meta-analysis of past research in the United States estimated a yearly expenditure of $28 billion on pre-clinical research that is not reproducible.
Research findings are irreproducible for reasons which could range from lack of access to methodological details, raw data and research material to misidentifying micro-organism and poor research practices and fraud. But the problem of inaccessibility to data has an effect on other factors that contribute to the crisis of reproducing research results.
“Reproducibility is a very big problem in research that requires a immediately solution,” said Dr Haruna Saidu, senior lecturer and Biotechnology researcher at the Gombe State University in Nigeria. “That is why several high quality journals require you to upload your raw data before your article gets reviewed and published.”
Indeed, the issue of lack of access to research data could be a manifestation of the persistent problem in global academia where scholarly research articles vanish from the traditional internet after some years and when publishers pull the plug from unarchived journals.
When a research result cannot be reproduced because data on methods and materials are not available, it wastes time and makes conducting further research in that area cumbersome as science builds on the progress of previous findings.
Observers have suggested that a public repository mechanism could be created for researchers to deposit data that pertains to their research. The mechanism, if created, could depend on traditional storage systems including computers in physical facilities and cloud technology. But even these solutions have challenges: outages which cloud storage platforms sometimes experience; vulnerability to censorship by statutory authorities; subjected to centralised storage platforms’ unpredictable and constantly changing terms and conditions of use.
The permaweb, however, could solve the crisis of reproducibility of scientific results. Supported by the blockweave and a decentralised storage system backed by over 1,500 nodes across the globe, stored research data cannot be altered and are not susceptible to censorship or repressive laws in any country as hundreds of nodes can serve the data to anyone who seeks it even if a government decides to shut down the operations of nodes in its jurisdiction. Unlike other storage solutions, the cost of storing on the permaweb reduces overtime under a one-time payment arrangement which lasts for 200 years.
“The provision of repository of date could ensure transparency, accurate research design, in depth understanding of research and novelty identification,” Saidu said.