The phrase ‘Responsible Science’ brings up a whole host of different questions. What is it referring to? Who is responsible for what? Isn’t science already super responsible?
That’s why we decided to take some time – 5 episodes to be exact – to explore the idea of Responsible Science with some of the most influential people and organisations in the world of science.
Over the course of the series, we’ll explore what the scientists themselves believe needs to be done to make science more responsible, we’ll quiz the corporates about their role in the broader science ecosystem, we’ll meet startups keen to use the power of technology to ‘solve’ parts of science, and we’ll explore the wonderful world of sharing science, and the role of those communicating it.
The wonderful team at Cell Signal Technologies have come on board as our series supporter – so a huge thanks to them for adding to the vision, and making this crucial conversation a reality.
For the first episode, we explore the broad idea of Responsible Science – and for this, we interviewed Guardian Longread contributor Stephen Buranyi. Stephen has written extensively about subjects such as science publishing and science fraud, so who better to chat responsibility in the lab.
The first episode is now live so do give it a listen, and a brief summary of our discussion with Stephen is below.
We first unpick the abstract idea of Responsible Science – is it about conforming to the basic ideals of hypothesis and theories, or is it more about taking a look about the way we do science now?
“I think the day to day motivation of scientists are quite good…we run into problems when you think about the structures scientists work in. One of them is publishing and the other is this nebulous idea: how are you rewarded for your results?”
Beyond the incentive issues in science, though, there is much which is being done to ensure the best science possible.
“There are a lot of people and organisations who are doing things in different ways – we’re introducing new checks and balances on science.”
The question is, though, are these new technologies, ideas and organisations enough to combat the huge complex system that is science, and the strong culture which is not easy to change?
“Every couple of months, you’ll see this great new way of sharing or making science more open in terms of getting your results out, mediated by the internet. That’s all very good, but when the internet first became incredible popular, people thought that would kill publishing as it currently existed. That turned out not to be the case, and that was an enormous technological change.”
We touched on private companies and their role in science – discussing both the general scepticism from scientists around their motivations, but also arguing that it was Bayer who sounded the alarm on the reproducibility issues in cancer research. It is not a black and white issue.
On reproducibility, the area most people default to when they meet with the phrase Responsible Science, we discussed the differences between parts of the problem which can be solved with better technology and others that simply cannot.
“When I’m talking about the replication crisis, what I mean is science done in a way that is not replicable because the experiments are not very valid. And they’re not valid because you’ve essentially replicated them poorly yourself. You cherry picked in some way, etc. It’s not that it’s not replicable because you’re not sharing enough about it. One of those things has an easy fix: one is a cultural effect and one is a technological effect.”
Up next: we chat to the startups keen to make science more responsible using the power of the internet, and ask the question: can technology really be the answer?