On May 31, members of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Science Policy Committee and Board of Directors participated in a full day discussion about scientific rigor and reproducibility. Held in conjunction with the June meeting of FASEB’s Board of Directors, the annual Science Policy Symposium featured speakers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), and representatives from private stakeholder organizations, including the Global Biological Standards Institute (GBSI), American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), and Science Exchange.
Thomas Baldwin, PhD, FASEB’s Vice President-Elect for Science Policy, framed the conversation by asking speakers and attendees to consider underlying causes that might lead to inconsistent research findings. Examples included rapidly changing laboratory techniques, outdated modes of training graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and the hypercompetitive environment for funding and publication. Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, Principal Deputy Director at NIH, and Theresa Good, PhD, Deputy Division Director, Division of Molecular and Cellular Biology at NSF, provided overviews of the strategies their agencies are pursuing to increase awareness of shortcomings in experimental methods, data analysis, and reporting that could contribute to inconsistency in research. Dr. Tabak emphasized that neither NIH nor NSF could tackle this issue alone and that agencies need and are seeking support from community stakeholders such as scientific societies, scientific publishers, representatives from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, and others to develop best practices.
Symposium attendees also heard about the efforts of organizations that are working to improve research standards and community awareness. Leonard Freedman, PhD, President of the Global Biological Standards Institute, discussed a public awareness campaign to promote existing research standards. Yvonne Reid, PhD, Research Scientist at ATCC, provided an in depth review of strategies to authenticate cell lines and common pitfalls that contribute to contamination of cell stocks. Founder and CEO of Science Exchange, Elizabeth Iorns, PhD, highlighted key gaps in information reporting discovered through replication projects at her organization.
The symposium concluded with a presentation by Jon Lorsch, PhD, Director of the National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), emphasizing the important role of training and education in addressing issues related to scientific rigor. Specifically, Dr. Lorsch noted that while scientific methodologies have changed dramatically in the past 40 years, there has been little change in the way graduate students and postdocs are trained in the scientific method. He argued that training should emphasize the learning of skills rather than memorization of facts as one strategy to enhance scientific rigor and reduce variability in research results. FASEB plans to convene additional expert panels to discuss other aspects of the rigor and reproducibility issue in the next several months.