Rupert Sheldrake - The Reproducibility Crisis in Science: How do Expectations Influence Experiments


Episode 4 of the online course How To Transform the Sciences: Six Potential Breakthroughs

Around 2015, scientists were shocked to find that most papers in high-prestige peer-reviewed scientific journals are not reproducible. In one study of papers in prestigious biomedical journals, 90% could not be replicated, and in experimental psychology more than 60%. This crisis partly arises from systematic biases that Rupert discusses in his chapter on ‘Illusions of Objectivity’ in The Science Delusion (2012, new edition 2020; in the US this book is called Science Set Free), including the selective observation and reporting of results, and perverse incentives for scientists and journals to publish striking positive findings. The crisis continues to roll on, as shown, for example, by an editorial in Nature, December 2021, about un-reproducible results in cancer biology.

All this is relatively straightforward, but Rupert suggests that some experiments may also involve direct mind-over-matter effects. It has long been known that experimenters can influence their experimental results through their expectations, in so-called ‘experimenter expectancy effects’, which is why many clinical trials, psychological and parapsychological experiments are carried out under blind or double-blind conditions.

In most other fields of science, experimenter effects are ignored and blind methodologies are rarely employed. Rupert suggests that in addition to the usual sources of bias, experimenters may also influence experiments psychokinetically, through direct mind-over-matter effects. Scientists may be particularly prone to this source of error because most scientists believe psychokinesis is impossible, and hence take no precautions against it. They practise unprotected science. Rupert proposes experiments on experiments to test for the effects of experimenters’ hopes and expectations.

A Dream, or the Astronomy of the Moon
Johann Kepler, published posthumously in 1634 by his son
Rupert's essay The Replicability Crisis in Science
Bad Pharma
Ben GoldacreFourth Estate, 2012
Artifacts in Behavioral Research
Robert Rosenthal and Ralph L. Rosnow, Oxford University Press, 2009
Over half of psychology studies fail reproducibility test
Differential indoctrination of examiners and Rorschach responses
A longitudinal study of the effects of experimenter bias on the operant learning of laboratory rats
Could Experimenter Effects Occur in the Physical and Biological Sciences?
Skeptical Inquirer 22(3), 57-58 May / June 1998
Quantum‐Mechanical Random‐Number Generator

Dr Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, is a biologist and author best known for his hypothesis of morphic resonance. At Cambridge University, as a Fellow of Clare College, he was Director of Studies in biochemistry and cell biology. As the Rosenheim Research Fellow of the Royal Society, he carried out research on the development of plants and the ageing of cells, and together with Philip Rubery discovered the mechanism of polar auxin transport. In India, he was Principal Plant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, where he helped develop new cropping systems now widely used by farmers. He is the author of more than 100 papers in peer-reviewed journals and his research contributions have been widely recognized by the academic community, earning him a notable h-index for numerous citations. On ResearchGate his Research Interest Score puts him among the top 4% of scientists.

#ScienceCrisis #Reproducibility #ScientificMethod #ExperimenterEffect #PublicationBias #PsychokineticResearch

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