University of Lübeck, Sept 2019

I’ll be speaking at the workshop “Replication of Crises: Psychology in Times of Epistemic Upheaval” at the University of Lübeck on Sept 19-20, 2019.

Jumping the species barrier: reproducibility concerns as a trans-disciplinary phenomenon

One of the unique aspects of the reproducibility/replication crisis is that it is a trans-disciplinary phenomenon. A 2016 study conducted by Nature Publishing Group of 1500 scientists from chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, and beyond found that scientists in all fields reported substantial rates of irreproducibility—surprisingly, with the highest rates of all reported by chemists. This talk will ask how the crisis “jumped the species barrier,” so to speak, from being a collection of discipline or technique specific problems into a crisis of science broadly construed. The talk will draw from a qualitative analysis of a database of 350 articles discussing the reproducibility/replication crisis. This analysis reveals different ways of thinking about the meeting of reproducibility/replication discourses; for example, as a discussion originating in biology that eventually reached psychology, or vice versa, or as independent discourses that fused together, or never quite fused at all. In some narratives it is the production of a seemingly implausible finding using established methods that precipitates crisis, while in others it is the quantification of the extent of poor methodological practices that signals the need for reform. Clustering articles by their narrative patterns shows the persistence of different ways of talking about the crisis, as evidenced by the divide between actors who refer to it as the “reproducibility crisis” and those who prefer the term “replication crisis” instead. Mapping the discursive space in this way makes it possible to differentiate between several different crisis narratives that are traveling together under the same banner, and to compare the way that psychologists construct their crisis narrative to those of other disciplines.