How Reliable Are Cancer Studies?

Ed Yong in The Atlantic:

ScreenHunter_2542 Jan. 27 19.41In recent years, scientists have been dealing with concerns about a reproducibility crisis—the possibility that many published findings may not actually be true. Psychologists have grappled intensively with this problem, trying to assess its scope and look for solutions. And two reports from pharmaceutical companies have suggested that cancer biologists have to face a similar reckoning.

In 2011, Bayer Healthcare said that its in-house scientists could only validate 25 percent of basic studies in cancer and other conditions. (Drug companies routinely do such checks so they can use the information in those studies as a starting point for developing new drugs.) A year later, Glenn Begley and Lee Ellis from Amgen said that the firm could only confirm the findings in 6 out of 53 landmark cancer papers—just 11 percent. Perhaps, they wrote, that might explain why “our ability to translate cancer research to clinical success has been remarkably low.”

But citing reasons of confidentiality, neither the Bayer nor Amgen teams released the list of papers that they checked, or their methods or results. Ironically, without that information, there was no way of checking if their claims about irreproducibility were themselves reproducible. “The reports were shocking, but also seemed like finger-pointing,” says Tim Errington, a cell biologist at the Center for Open Science (COS).

Elizabeth Iorns had the same thought, and she saw a way to do a better and more transparent job.

More here.