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2009 2:04 am Related News I hadn? Science is a self-correcting process. If only it were that simple As a series of controversies over the past few months have demonstratedscience fixes its mistakes more slowlymore fitfully and with more difficulty than Sagans words would suggest Science runs forward better than it does backward It takes a lot of time to look back over other scientists work and replicate their experiments Scientists are scrambling to get grants and tenure As a resultpapers that attract harsh criticism may nonetheless escape the careful scrutiny required if they are to be refuted In Mayfor instancethe journal Science published eight critiques of a controversial paper that it had run in December In the papera team of scientists described a species of bacteria that seemed to defy the known rules of biology by using arsenic instead of phosphorus to build its DNA Chemists and microbiologists roundly condemned the paper; in the eight critiquesresearchers attacked the study for using sloppy techniques and failing to rule out more plausible alternatives But none of those critics had actually tried to replicate the initial results That would take months of research: getting the bacteria from the original team of scientistsrearing themsetting up the experimentgathering results and interpreting them Many scientists are leery of spending so much time on what they consider a foregone conclusion For nowthe original paper has not been retracted; the results still stand Even when scientists rerun an experimentand even when they find that the original result is flawedthey still may have trouble getting their paper published The reason is surprisingly mundane: journal editors typically prefer to publish groundbreaking new researchnot dutiful replications In Marchfor instancea psychologist at Cornell University shocked his colleagues by publishing a paper in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in which he presented the results of experiments showinghe claimedthat peoples minds could be influenced by events in the futureas if they were clairvoyant Three teams of scientists promptly tried to replicate his results All three teams failed All three teams wrote up their results and submitted them to the same journal And all three teams were rejected but not because their results were flawed As the journals editorEliot Smithexplainedthe journal has a longstanding policy of not publishing replication studies This policy is not new and is not unique to this journal?

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