Don’t worry, this isn’t really a place, but a new center at Stanford will be following that model. The Meta-Research Innovation Center, headed by epidemiologist John Ioannidis, will take a crack at the myriad studies that are published each year that are just plain, well, bad. His 2005 study showed how often published studies are wrong for a variety of reasons, such as smaller groups, more experimental flexibility, and bias. The center, which is abbreviated as METRICS, will form a watch group of sorts to keep an eye on these issues and, as The Economist says, “shame laggards into better behavior.” Their mission is pretty valiant: “Identifying and minimizing persistent threats to medical-research quality.”
It’s pretty sad that such a group has to be created because people let fame and funding get in the way of producing quality research. What’s worse is that there’s actually a Journal of Irreproducible Results for studies that have yet to be reliably replicated; granted, it was made as a joke, but the fact that exists is concerning. I know there’s a difference between crappy studies and studies that had misfortune, and I know that scientists aren’t necessarily held to a code of ethics in the literal sense that doctors are or in the implied sense that journalists are, but at the same time, they’re responsible for providing the world with quality information, especially when this kind of information is used by other professionals in making decisions.
Take stem cells for example. They’re a pretty hot topic, as I’ve covered before, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were scientists starting research in the area just so they can have their chance to be “the person” who discovers a reliable way to synthesize them. Similarly, I wouldn’t be surprised if organizations would be more willing to shell out the big bucks to support such research for the same reason. The problem is that that’s not the reason they should be doing it but rather for the greater good. If this technology could save lives, those lives shouldn’t be relying on someone’s desire to have their name linked to the major finding.