New Quarterly Conversations

by Jamie Vernon | Jul 19, 2017

Sigma Xi Speaks, July 2017

Sigma Xi is starting a new initiative to promote and cultivate quarterly conversations about issues relevant to our members’ needs and interests. 

Q1 Topic: Can Sigma Xi Fix the Reproducible Science Crisis?
Jamie L. VernonWhen people ask me what’s great about Sigma Xi, one aspect I often refer to is the membership pledge. It encourages our members “to maintain honor, integrity, and honesty in all scientific activities.” Every member makes this pledge. It distinguishes Sigma Xi from other scientific organizations. 

The pledge is especially important now because science has a perception problem. Scientific evidence is being discounted and dismissed among certain segments of our population. Yet, the scientific process is our best way of gaining an understanding of the world around us. It is crucial for those who conduct research to practice it in a way that preserves the public’s confidence. After all, most basic research is financed by public funds collected through federal taxation. Those who are footing the bill should be certain that they’re getting a good return on their investment.

Unfortunately, there is a growing perception that science is not a worthwhile investment. I say “perception” because we know that science and technology continue to be the primary drivers of innovation and economic growth in the United States. Yet, budget debates in Washington, DC, have increased the scrutiny of investments in science and have forced the scientific community to defend the merits of federally funded research. 

Recent revelations about the irreproducibility of numerous published scientific studies have compounded the problem. Some would argue that the reproducible science problem constitutes a crisis. Others suggest that the concern is based on a misunderstanding of the scientific process or unfair expectations for science. 

This is where I believe Sigma Xi holds a unique opportunity. Not only should Sigma Xi members be calling on all of their qualified students and colleagues to take the Sigma Xi pledge, but also we can take meaningful steps toward addressing the problem of reproducibility.

Quarterly Conversations

During the first quarter of this fiscal year (July 1 – September 30), Sigma Xi will publish content and share resources related to the topic of reproducible science. Members, affiliates, and explorers are encouraged to come together for discussions about this critical issue and are invited to share the results of your conversations—by sending an email to Members can also use the discussion titled, “Can Sigma Xi Fix the Reproducible Science Crisis?” in the online member community, The Lab, to address this topic.

Sigma Xi’s history as a leader on issues in science and technology will serve as a template for advancing this global conversation. Given the vast creativity, experience, and wisdom of our membership, we believe there is an opportunity to develop some useful recommendations on how to address this issue. 

To get you started, we've prepared the following questions about the topic:

  • Is this a real problem or is it a misunderstanding of the scientific process?

  • What is the role of publishers in disseminating irreproducible science?

  • How does the current tenure system contribute to this issue? Are tenured and tenure track professors under too much pressure?

  • Would greater data transparency and more collaboration improve the reproducibility of research results?

  • Can students be trained to avoid/overcome the pitfalls and problems related to reproducibility?

We will collect your thoughts and experiences to inform other members. In addition, we will spotlight successful events in a variety of ways, by inviting you to summarize the discussion in blog posts for Sigma Xi’s blog, by including them in Sigma Xi Today, by organizing discussion sessions at the 2018 annual meeting, and other useful ways. 

Below are some resources you can use to inform your discussions with your fellow members, colleagues, affiliates, and explorers. Tune in for more information as this conversation progresses. 

Published Papers:

Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science

Paving the Way to More Reliable Research

Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology


Is There a Reproducibility Crisis in Science?

Video from Sigma Xi Honorary Member Derek Muller: Is Most Published Research Wrong?

In future quarters, you can expect other important topics to be discussed. I hope you'll use these occasions to build companionship with your students and colleagues. 


Jamie L. Vernon, PhD
Executive Director and CEO
Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society
Publisher of American Scientist

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