Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Replication: "the ultimate test of truth in science"

So says Dr. Donald Kennedy, the editor of America's foremost scientific journal, Science, in an article in yesterday's New York Times about a Congressional briefing on the intersection of science and public policy. Right on! Replication is the key. If scientists cannot replicate a study because its design is not divulged or if their replicated protocol does not produce the same results, then science has failed. That's why the federal Data Quality Act establishes replication as one of the key criteria for determining whether a study meets the high standards that we should require in using science to support public policy. That is a key issue before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when it convenes in Richmond tomorrow to receive oral argument in Salt Institute v. Leavitt, the first challenge reaching a federal appeals court seeking to define how the Data Quality Act will be interpreted. The issue here is that the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been characterizing results of studies it pays for without allowing qualified experts access to enough data to be able to judge whether the statements are true or not. Kennedy is quoted saying "Peer review isnot a process that guarantees truth. If it were, no one would ever repeat experiments. Replication is the ultimate test of truth in science."

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