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Fighting Irreproducibility

January 4, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 1

Having observed the institutionalized generation of publications touting irreproducible results, I read with interest the interview with Leonard P. Freedman (C&EN, Sept. 7, 2015, page 31). The four main causes of irreproducibility that Freedman identifies—inadequate laboratory protocols (11%), data analysis and reporting problems (25%), poor study design (28%), and improper use of biological reagents and reference materials (36%)—all seem to be education- and training-related.

Until we as a community recognize that having a degree, even an advanced degree, does not make someone an expert in all areas of chemistry and invest in the education and training of technical staff, I am afraid this problem will continue. I also believe this problem will continue until academic institutions recognize that students and students’ future employers are their customers and they modify undergraduate and graduate education.

Robert J. Kobelski
Alpharetta, Ga.



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James Morris (January 25, 2016 2:43 PM)
This is yet another letter about the all too common inadequate training many young scientists receive. In the previous year or so I recall similar letters regarding safety and time management amongst other topics. The training many graduate students get varies a lot from school to school and from advisor to advisor within a particular university. Graduate students are in a difficult position of being somewhere in between the status of several things (student vs employee, student vs expert etc). They are on the path to becoming experts, but are not there yet. Sometimes graduate students are unsure of the skills they lack and need. These missing skills are occasionally exposed in painful and embarrassing ways. I find it difficult to hold a student wholly accountable for things they could not have known to ask about. Should the student have noticed something was amiss, possibly. However, significant accountability belongs to universities and professors for ensuring their students get the training they need.

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