5 Things You Can Learn from the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders about Leadership

I love reality TV shows, but with one major qualifier.  The contestants must be doing something that involves real skill. Top Chef: cooking. Project Runway: designing and sewing.  Face Off: sculpting, painting and creature design. America’s Got Talent: a bit of everything. And Dallas Cowboys – Making the Team: dance.

For the record, I’m a Patriot’s fan. Haters be haters, but I’m from New England so that’s where my loyalties lie. Move on. Also for the record, I am NOT a cheerleader. Never was, and never will be. I wasn’t even friends with the cheerleaders. But man do I appreciate the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and the Making the Team TV show.

For those of you who have heard this already, you can skip ahead to the list below. But for everyone else… I had a dream several years ago that I was offered a place on the team. I got to wear the uniform (in real life, I should never put on that uniform). I got to take the team picture (it’s a memory that will last forever). And with a hilarious touch of realism, I told the coach that I would work hard on my jump splits because I know that’s my weakness. I wanted to make the team proud.

But beyond the amazing dance routines, the girl-next-door hair and makeup, and the epic jump splits, I truly believe that this show is a shining example of how to create and lead an excellent team. So in the spirit of training camp, here are the 5 things that I have learned from the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (DCC, for short) about teamwork and leadership.

1. Expect Excellence

Kelli McGonagill Finglass is the current director of the DCC. She constantly reminds the rookies and the veterans that they are the “premiere cheerleading team in the NFL” and a “team of world-class dancers.”  Setting the expectation of excellence sets the stage for these women to strive to excel.

The same could be said for whatever team you are leading or are a part of. Expecting excellence sets the stage for success.

2. Create a Supportive Environment

The women of this team are encouraged to work together and support one another. Even though each step of the way is highly competitive, the women have to support one another to succeed. If one person on the field dances with lots of mistakes or doesn’t kick high enough, it makes the whole team look sloppy. The team benefits by having its members supporting and learning from one another so that everyone excels.

This is the same in any type of workplace. The team is only as strong as its weakest member. Encouraging the team to work together, learn from each other, and teach each other will improve the team as a whole.

3. Nip Problems in the Bud

DCC leaders Kelly and Judy (Judy Trammell, the head choreographer) “check in” with dancers who are having issues. Being “called into the office” is one of the clearly over-dramatized moments of the show. But, they often do this so that problems can be addressed before they get out of hand. These can be anything from helping someone who is struggling outside of the studio (loss of a job or loved one) or addressing how they aren’t picking up the complicated choreography fast enough. Let’s be honest, this doesn’t always end with a “go get ’em, girl.” At least 10 dancers are told that “this is your last night.” But even in those cases, if the person isn’t ready yet, they are encouraged to try out again the following year.

Imagine how many problems could be fixed at work if the leaders took the time to talk about their employees as people and address issues before they become huge problems. As with the DCC, it won’t always work out, but it can be used as a learning experience for the employee.

4. Set Realistic but Lofty Goals

These dancers need to learn 50 complex dances during the 8 week training camp PLUS the kickline! Not everyone comes into training camp at the same level or experience. But the goals are set at the beginning. Each training camp candidate knows what’s expected of them. They know how hard it will be. But at the same time, they also know how to succeed. Not only that, but they know that they will all succeed together.

Setting goals for your team helps them understand how to succeed. More than that, it provides your team with a shared purpose so they are more likely to work together towards that purpose.

5. Go big or go home

AT&T Stadium is the largest stage in the world for a cheerleader. If nothing else, the stage should inspire them to do their best. The first day of training camp this year, the Cowboy’s owner told them all to “empty your bucket.” In other words, give it your all. How else can you expect to be world-class if you don’t give a world-class effort?

If everyone – from the top to the bottom of an organization – went into work every day and gave it their all, imagine what we could all accomplish!

Wondering what this has to do with science? Very little other than science needs good leaders too. We have laboratory, universities, companies, and institutes that are full of people who need inspiration and direction. 

There’s also an awesome non-profit called Science Cheerleaders, which has over 300 current and former NFL, NBA and college cheerleaders pursuing STEM careers. Their goals are to challenge stereotypes, encourage young women to pursue STEM careers, and get all people involved in citizen science.

You can watch Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team on CMT

Learning how to Communicate Science

I’ve been writing this blog for a few years in my spare time. Having a full time job (and an eleven month old daughter) doesn’t provide a lot of spare time to write, much less to work on and think deeply about how I communicate on my blog or elsewhere.

This summer, I decided to take the time to think about science communication and acquire some more tools to communication to the public better by taking the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) Art of Science Communication course. Using a combination of video lessons and weekly group Skype discussions, this 6 week course crammed in information about why scientists should communicate to the public, how to do it, and probably most importantly, how not to do it.

The Art of Science Communication

In comparison to others in the class, I think I had more experience than many in public communication. But that being said, I took home a few interesting messages:

  1. Scientific studies have shown that telling people facts does not effectively communicate science (what’s known as the deficit model).  Learning this, I immediately regretted many of my blog posts excitedly describing science facts in an attempt to help the public understand it.
  2. Engaging and understanding your audience is key. One way to engage is by “framing” the science in a way that provides context (economic, ethical, emotional, etc). I love framing both in scientific and public talks because that explains why the science is interesting.
  3. I like tangents. This might be obvious (and certainly wasn’t a surprise to me), but I hadn’t realized what a big problem this was until I gave my first presentation (more on that below), and got distracted with all of the other “interesting stuff.” This interesting stuff distracted from the main message and diluted the effectiveness of what I was trying to convey.
  4. You can’t say more than one thing at the same time. Also obvious. But when planning a talk or a blog post or a conversation, knowing what order things should come out in ends up being critical in creating an effective talk.

What about these talks? The course was flanked by recording a pre-course talk and a final, new and improved talk about your research. I love talking in front of an audience, but I haven’t spent a lot of time in front of the camera. I also haven’t given many (if any) talks without PowerPoint slides. But I overcame the fear and the crutch and went for it. If you’re interested, here’s my final talk (the pre-course talk is here).

One Minute Science

Besides being a great learning experience, this course inspired me to start a new YouTube series in collaboration with GotScience called One Minute Science. Launching this fall, I will talk about something cool in biology or health for one minute (or less).  This will force me to focus on what really matters – fascinating science and why it matters. Stay tuned!!!

Final note: if you are a scientist interested in science communication, I encourage you to take this class. It’s only $100 and you learn a ton even if you devote only a few hours a week. Next session applications are open September 4th.

A Grad School Gardener

I wrote this on the plane while thinking about an upcoming GotScience Magazine series that will explore urban gardening. This story doesn’t exactly fit the science-focused mission of my blog or the GotScience series. But this is a story ultimately about my Mom, who inspired this blog and my desire to garden. 

My parents had a huge garden in our sprawling New England backyard where I grew up.  My mom came from a long line of farmers, so gardening was “in her bones,” even if it wasn’t in her children’s. My sister and I complained every time we were asked to go pick the green beans, zucchini, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, snap peas, and whatever else had ripened overnight. But firmly rooted in my memory is the taste of a tomato plucked off the vine and popped directly into my mouth or the crunch of the baby carrot cleaned off with the dew on the grass. It may be these memories that, despite our resistance to gardening, led both my sister and I to plant gardens the second that we had the opportunity.

My opportunity was in graduate school.  Living in a small set of six rooms on “The Farm,” I could look out my window and see the rows of corn grown for genetic experiments. This corn grew out of Barbara McClintock’s pioneering work in understanding transposons (also called “jumping genes”) that led to her Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983. But right next to the corn field was a smaller field commandeered by another graduate student whose goal was to grow an award winning giant pumpkin.

The fields that were offered to the students and faculty at Cold Spring Harbor weren’t nearly as well-controlled as those at The Farm. Originally, the set of 10×10 foot plots were tucked away in the middle of a wooded area that was a short walk or drive from campus.  The only rule was that you couldn’t grow corn  – because we couldn’t risk it pollinating the experimental corn and ruining the genetic experiments.

My first grad school garden in the woods

When you give a bunch of scientists land, they tend to till it with the focus and academic rigor that they bring to the hours and hours of laboratory work. These gardens were experimental, but not in the traditional sense. I experimented with growing different vegetables – beets and heirloom tomatoes – than what my mother grew. I also tried different weed suppression techniques, in part to avoid pesticides but more to avoid the tedious (and time consuming) task of weeding. Straw was highly effective, but only if put on the beds before lots of weeds started to grow. The negatives – made a mess in the car.

The next summer, the gardens were moved out of the forest and on to a hill overlooking the volleyball courts. There was a fierce volleyball competition amongst over a dozen scientist-filled teams each summer, so this locale was convenient for garden tending post game. The garden community thrived here. It was so popular that people started to share their small plots along with their advice and vegetables. Within a small research institute on Long Island, it pulled the scientists out of the labs, into the sun, and as a side effect, put tons of fabulous food on our tables each summer.

I look back fondly on those days. Since moving to Phoenix, I haven’t yet mastered the art of urban (and desert) gardening. But I now understand why my mother toiled each spring to prepare a garden to harvest all summer. There’s something about having your hands in the dirt and crunching into that first carrot of the season that you grew yourself that makes all the work worth it.

 

 

 

 

Why I March: March for Science

The March for Science is this Saturday April 22nd. Thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of scientists and supporters of science will take to the streets in Washington DC and over 517 cities in satellite marches around the globe. I will be marching virtually from my sister’s home in Bend, Oregon.

Why do I march? I march because science is incredible. How cool is it that some people have DNA from two different people in them? How cool is it that scientists are working on curing HIV/AIDS with cord blood transplants? How cool is it that science has increased the length and quality of our lives, in part by eradicating childhood diseases like polio?

My goal as as a scientist is to help scientists do what they do best: research. Research can only be done by funding and supporting science.  Since much of scientific funding comes from the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies, we need to make sure that this support of science continues to be a nonpartisan priority. We need to support our young scientists so that a generation of science isn’t lost.

My goal as a human (who happens to be a scientist) is to empower the public. I want to help the public understand science and health, but I also want everyone to know (or feel like they know) a scientist. It’s a tough road to slog when people don’t trust in science. A first step in fixing this may be making sure that every single American knows a scientist. A recent survey found that people are more likely to trust news from a Facebook friend. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had a scientist as a Facebook friend?

So I march for science. I march for progress. I march for our present. I march for our future. And I march for all of you, since I am your Facebook science friend.

Science Literacy Starts with Accessibility

A guest post by: Shayna Keyles, Outreach Coordinator, Science Connected

Science is a broad term that covers numerous disciplines, from paleontology and particle physics to medicine and mechanical engineering. Nutritional recommendations, architectural limitations, and football-throwing specifications are all guided by science—as are birth, death, and everything in between. So where does Science Connected fit in with all that?

Science Literacy Starts with AccessibilityScience is vast, and for many around the world, it’s a foreign concept. Many factors contribute to its inaccessibility: teaching methods or curricula that are less than ideal; prohibitive expenses of higher learning; difficulties in understanding scientific concepts or applying them to real life. Reports and findings are frequently written with technical, jargon-filled language that can shut out even the most curious lay reader.

According to the National Science Foundation, only 21 percent of 12th grade students perform at or above grade level in science. While on the surface that sounds like 79 percent of students are just having difficulty solving chemical equations or reciting the Krebs cycle, it really means that over three-quarters of all 12th graders don’t have a firm enough grasp on the earth sciences to understand the causes of climate change or its harmful effects. It means that high schoolers don’t have sufficient understanding of what makes up the food they eat, how exercise helps the body, or how the reproductive system works.

That’s where Science Connected comes in. This nonprofit exists to make science more accessible by creating equal access to science education, responsible science journalism, and readily-available research. When science is accessible and available, science literacy goes up, and with increased science literacy comes a more informed, more engaged, and more responsible citizenry.

Access to science means many things:

  • Easy-to-read, well-researched information
  • Hands-on experiences that don’t require lab access or expensive materials
  • Nearby science programs and activities within an engaged community
  • Educational resources that bring more science into classrooms

Science Connected improves accessibility to science in all these areas. Through the organization’s flagship publication, GotScience Magazine, the team works closely with researchers, journalists, universities, and industry leaders to provide cutting-edge research findings to people of all ages and backgrounds, as well as publishing classroom materials for teachers to use for free.

As a member of the Citizen Science Association, Science Connected also promotes community-organized projects and independent experimentation. Crowdsourced research, individual experiments, and self-published materials are all essential contributions to greater science literacy.

Science Connected is running an IndieGogo campaign to expand its free online magazine, GotScience.org, and to continue making science more accessible to learners of all ages.

Running an open-access magazine requires writers, editors, bandwidth, and public relations, as well as ongoing relationships with science journalists, researchers, and media organizations. While many of the contributing writers and editors volunteer their time, donations are still important to maintain the organization’s infrastructure. Here’s what funds raised through the Indiegogo campaign will be used for:

  • Membership in scientific organizations to make sure sources are all accurate
  • Writing stipends for GotScience journalists and researchers
  • Maintaining the Science Connected and GotScience websites

An assortment of thank-you gifts have been prepared for campaign supporters. For a donation of $5, you’ll get a social media shout-out. For $10 to $150, the range of gifts includes handwritten thank-you notes, exclusive photographic prints, stickers, mugs, and stainless steel water bottles. A $250 donation brings you all of the above and a highly visible, public thank-you on the website.

This is an incredibly important campaign, especially in this uncertain era of science skepticism, threats to public education, reduced funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, and an unfortunate distrust of expertise. With only a month of the campaign left, Science Connected needs to raise $3,000 to meet the goal. Every dollar helps. Your contribution doesn’t only help Science Connected—it helps everyone with a passion for learning about science.

Donate now: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/science-connected-bring-science-to-your-screen-education/x/16142831#/

 

Persuading the Unpersuaded

I haven’t blogged for a while. I had a baby. Babies take up a lot of time and energy. Lack of sleep doesn’t make for good blogging.

But I also got discouraged.  This election and the potential impact it will have on science and health is discouraging.  The shouting of “fake news” from all corners of leadership because facts that they don’t like are being talked about is discouraging. (See a great video of Don Lemon walking off of the CNN set from real news being accused of being fake). My deep desire to share with you my passion for science but feeling like I need to address this political atmosphere (and really not wanting to because that’s not my passion and purpose) is discouraging.

But I’m a positive person. And as a positive person, I want to find a solution so that I can move forward and continue to do what I love to do – connecting science with the public.  So part  of my solution will be to stand will all people who support science and truth by participating in the March for Science on April 22nd here in Phoenix.

The other part of the solution will be harder.  I realized that not everyone knows a scientist. And maybe they don’t trust science and scientists because they have misconceptions of who we are and what we do. How can I persuade the unpersuaded and reach beyond the science bubble (as described in a recent Nature article)? I want EVERYONE to know a scientist, and I’ve realized it needs to start with me.

Stay tuned for more about this…but in the meantime, I will be blogging more in order to share with you all the awesomeness of science!!

Adding the “Art” to STEM

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math = STEM, add “ART” and you get STEAM.

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Cyndi and I in front of some cells

Friday night, I collaborated with my fabulous friend Cyndi Coon for a “STEAM-Y” Ladies night out at Tempe Center for the Arts. Scientists aren’t known for their artistic abilities, but Cyndi has the knack for drawing out the artist in everyone – even me, who insists I’m not a “draw-er.”  The whole evening revolved around creating your own “cell-fie.”

Bringing on the STEM

As the science nerd that I am, I was excited to talk about the connection between how cells look and how they function. In the examples below, you can see how lung cells have little wavy fingers called cilia that are used to remove debris from the lung.  Plant cells have a hard exterior cell wall, which help make plant’s leaves rigid.  They are also green because of the chloroplasts that harness sunlight and turn it into plant energy.  And in the breast, you can see that the cells are organized in such a way that an empty space (called a lumen) is created where breast milk is stored after pregnancy. There are so many cool examples! Pollen. Neurons. Blood cells. The list goes on and on!

What cells look like and how they’re arranged often help to understand how to cell functions

Adding the “A”

Cyndi brought the “STEAM” by talking about Ernst Haeckel who was a PhD trained zoologist turned artist. His illustrations are stunning! Many of his ideas about evolution and biology were later disproved, and he used creative license with many of his “subjects.” However, his art captured a Victorian audience. He was a true scientific communicator (or as Cyndi would say “performance artist”.

It’s from these dual inspirationsIMG_0360 that the thirty or so attendees got to work with their black paper, gel pens, and colored pencils. We were reminded that patterns often occur in nature as does some level of symmetry, which could be used to help us draw our cells. Patterns can be created by grouping shapes together, mimicking groupings of cells. Or you could draw cells so that you can tell from what they look like what the cell might do.

The group was so creative! You can be creative too! Take inspiration from this idea. Why not have your kids or your friends (with a glass of wine) create cellfies? And if you do, share them with me!

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I can’t encourage you enough to check out Cyndi’s creative work at Laboratory 5 or her speaker page. I love that her transformational talk will encourage you to “channel your naughtiness to expose creativity and use it as a super tool.” 

Read a version of this article with even more info about Ernst Haeckel at GotScience.org

Book Club – The Coming Plague

I think we’ve all heard a lot about Zika in the past few months.  Hardly a single story about the Olympics is written without the mention of this virus. Major discussion surrounds who’s going or not based on Zika. For the Center for Disease Control’s take, read here. In fact, I was planning on going to the Olympics with my girlfriends until I decided to get pregnant earlier this year.  I do not want to contract Zika and the possible debilitating birth defects associated with it.  But, I’ll also be late in my third trimester and unable to travel. Definitely a bummer, but better than microcephaly.

comingplagueWith all this talk of disease, it reminded me of a fascinating book I read nearly 20 years ago: “The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance” written by the brilliant Laurie Garrett. This tome tracks over the history, outbreaks and social outcomes of diseases including HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Lassa Fever, and influenza. I was a much younger scientist when I read this book. I hadn’t considered the social and economic effects of disease.  In particular, I remember the stories about how HIV/AIDS in Africa. This virus has devastated families who often had both mother and father die from the disease leaving millions of orphans. But not only that, AIDS eliminated much of the workforce in certain parts of Africa, decimating the economy.

My thoughts on “The Coming Plague”

After reading this book, I insisted that my Mom, who was  substituting teaching at the time, read it too. She called one day to let me know that she told all the teachers in the break room that some deadly disease (likely a version of the Spanish Flu) was going to re-emerge and likely kill millions of people.

I think even just 20 years ago, this fear would be extremely well founded.  Today, I have high hopes that modern science has the funding, political support, and skill to quickly diagnose and develop a treatment for a newly emerging disease.  Zika provides a modern example.  In mere months, scientists have been able to confirm that Zika is linked to birth defects (one original article using animal models here) and less than a month ago, the first clinical trial of a Zika vaccine was approved by the FDA (article here).

Is the Zika response good enough, fast enough, or certain to be effective?  Only time will tell.  Does this science mean that we don’t need to concern ourselves with emerging infectious disease?  Not at all!  In fact, it may mean that we should be even more vigilant so that scientists will have the funding to study, understand, and help treat these diseases as quickly as possible.

What’s one thing that people don’t know about your job, but should?

On Facebook the other day, a post come up with answers to this question: what’s one thing that people don’t know about your job, but should?  I wish I could share the link, but I just can’t seem to find it. Perhaps this means that my answer to this question should be “Even though I’m a researcher, I can’t find everything I’m looking for by Google searching either.”

Joking aside, I have spent the last several days thinking about this question and what the answer is for me.  I’ve also asked my husband who is a Neuro ICU nurse and everyone else I’ve come into contact recently. For the record, the hubby’s response was that even though you only have two patients that you pay attention to for your 12 hour shift, they take up all your time and you barely have time to sit, eat or do anything else. (He’s such an awesome nurse!!)

Me - my first day as a newly minted PhD scientist!

Me – my first day as a newly minted PhD scientist!

I keep changing my answer the more I think about it. In part, this blog tries to demystify what being a scientist is all about.  I think I tell you about things all the time that you probably didn’t know about, like what a scientific meeting is like, how does the grad school experience work, and what in the world I do at an Institutional Review Board meeting. Also, as a scientist, I think one of the main things I want people to know about the profession as a whole is that scientists aren’t just one type or stereotype. Scientists can be nerds, we can work in the lab, but we are also in business, policy, the arts (and be nerdy or not – it all depends!).  We also have hobbies outside of the lab. I play in a handbell choir and love to bike ride bar hop. Friends of mine have hobbies as diverse as raising carnivorous plants, riding horses, or long-distance biking.  We’re just people too!!

But what if I had to choose JUST ONE thing about MY JOB that I’d want people to know. I think it would be the critical importance of communication. I spend the majority of the day communicating my thoughts and vision to my team, to my leadership, and to other people who will help my team achieve our goals.  I write papers and grants with the goal of communicating to reviewers, other researchers and funders the importance of my work. I communicate with people throughout the hospital asking questions, solving problems and working together to achieve our shared goals.

I know that communication is an important part of many (most?) jobs, but perhaps it is a bit surprising to non-scientist that it is so necessary for a scientist.  Maybe what I really mean is that so much of what I do every day, I can’t do on my own.  I rely on so many other people. Science isn’t a solitary as you might think!!

Then again, in 10 minutes I may think of something that I would want to people to know about my job EVEN MORE. Fortunately, I have this blog, and I can tell you all about it then – and I will.

What about you? What is your job and something that people don’t know about your job but should?  Share in the comments!

The Reproducibility Problem in Research

recipe

Image credit Pixabay

When you’re baking a cake, you follow a recipe that uses specific ingredients, added in a particular order, mixed in a specific way, and baked for a certain time at an exact temperature. But what if you made the cake twice?  Or three times? Will it be the same each time? Will your cake be “reproducible”? What if your baking powder is old?  The cake might not rise as much as normal.  Or you buy a different brand of flour? What if you’re baking at your sister’s house in Oregon at a higher elevation than normal?  Do you change the time or temperature that the cake bakes? How much? And what if you’re using your Grandmother’s handwritten recipe for her famous spice cake?  It’s filled with phrases such as a “pinch” of cinnamon or “about” 3 cups of flour.  Do you think it will taste the same as when your Grandmother makes it?  And what if two people try to make the same cake? On the Great British Baking Show, one of the challenges each week has each contestant follow the same recipe with the same ingredients to make the same baked item.  They NEVER come out the same because there is variability built until every step, even with the same instructions, equipment, and ingredients.

Science is sometimes a lot like baking.  Instead of a recipe, scientists’ follow a protocol (or standard operating procedure – shortened to “SOP” because scientists like acronyms). We purchase or make ingredients, typically called “reagents.”  Often a single reagent can be bought from many different companies or made in the lab by you or maybe by a technician, or maybe you were in a rush and you borrowed some from someone down the hall. In biology, biological materials like cells or enzymes are often involved.  These could be new or old.  You could have tested and “validated” your cells or antibodies or you could have relied on someone telling you that they are okay. Once you have all of your reagents pulled together, you do the experiment.

Experiments are funny little things.  You follow your SOP, but maybe one day, the 5 minute incubation turns into 10 because you were in the middle of answering an email.  Maybe another day you’re in a rush to get to a seminar so you skip a step.  Or maybe you’re training a new undergraduate how to do the experiment and you let them do a few steps on their own.

This variability is part of the reason why scientists repeat their experiments multiple times. Three, as you may expect, is often the magic number.  These data are then presented (for example, in a grant or a paper) either as a representative experiment, where only one of the three or more experiments are shown, or as an average of the experiments with “error bars” that often show how much the data differed between experiments.  This type of careful presentation gives other researchers more confidence that the result is real, as opposed to something that happened just because the new grad student messed something up.

The Reproducibility “Problem”

However, even with all this careful planning, there is a lot of chatter these days about the failure of scientists to be able to reproduce experiments.  One of the earliest papers about this topic came from researchers at Amgen who found that they couldn’t reproduce 47 out of 53 studies from cancer research labs. This has led to a snowball of studies and reports of the failure to reproduce data from various fields including biology and psychology. The most recent is a Nature Article surveying 1,500 scientists about their  ability to reproduce their own and others’ results in their own labs. 52% of these scientists felt that there was a reproducibility “crisis” and words like “bleak” and “discomfiting” were thrown around to express the severity of the problem.

So is there really a problem? Lots of papers have discussed this already, but I figured why not add my own opinion to the mix.  In part, yes, these likely is a bit of a problem.  This problem stems from using reagents you aren’t sure of.  For example, imagine that you think you’re studying prostate cancer and you think you’re using a cell line from a prostate cancer patient, but actually you’re using a super common cervical cell line? It happens all the time! An effort to make publishers and grantors enforce cell line authentication and other types of reagent confirmation before beginning experiments is gaining steam.  Not a bad idea and not too expensive.

Image credit Pixabay

Image credit Pixabay

Other efforts are also underway where a third party can be “hired” to authenticate results such as the Reproducibility Project. This is expensive, and time consuming, and one might wonder where the value lies in having someone else repeat your experiments? The value lies in having confidence in the result…but as we’ve discussed here already, the minute you move your experiment to another lab with new reagents and new people, you add more variability. If the experiment fails, how do you know it’s because the result was wrong or because someone else did it wrong?

This is where the issue lies, and I think it all comes back to the central goal of science and scientists. Scientists want to uncover what’s really happening in nature. Every experiment is done to test a hypothesis, and these results lead to more experiments and on and on. Even if an experiment doesn’t get identical results each time or can’t be reproduced in another lab, the fundamental question is whether or not the biological hypothesis is correct or not.  No matter what, scientists should always do multiple different kinds of experiments and follow-up experiments to confirm or refute their hypothesis. This all assumes that scientists are ethical and follow the scientific method – as opposed to folks who publish fabricated or modified data just to get a paper published (but that’s a topic for a whole other post!!)

So I guess the question may not be whether or not an experiment is reproducible, but whether or not the hypothesis is true. And if scientists focus on THAT as opposed to reproducibility, per se, then I think science is moving forward in a productive direction!