Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Do It Again

By Peter Bowditch

Anomalous or unexpected results will always be a part of scientific research.

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Two classic songs from my youth had the title Do It Again. One, by The Beach Boys, has become a staple on oldies’ adult rock radio stations, and the other, by Steely Dan, can be regularly heard on smooth jazz outlets. I don’t think that Brian Wilson, Walter Becker or Donald Fagen were thinking about science when they wrote these songs, but they always remind me of the importance of replication and reproducibility in the process of scientific research.

Anomalous or unexpected results will always be with us whenever scientific research is being done. It may seem strange to say that unexpected results are expected but that’s just a quirk of the English language.

The research projects that I undertook while studying cognitive psychology usually contained the dreaded “p<.05” somewhere in a discussion of the results. I know that some physicists ridicule this and other similar findings in the social sciences and medicine, and hold it up as evidence that these things aren’t real sciences, but probabilities like this in results merely indicate that we are dealing with things that are variable or difficult to measure precisely and recognise that the results might not be right.

It can sometimes be hard to explain to people that it simply means that if a large number of similar trials were conducted, we would expect this result more than 95% of the time. It...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.