Is It a Replication? A Reproduction? A Robustness Check? You’re Asking the Wrong Question

[Excerpts taken from the article, “What is replication?” by Brian Nosek and Tim Errington, published in PloS Biology]
“Credibility of scientific claims is established with evidence for their replicability using new data. This is distinct from retesting a claim using the same analyses and same data (usually referred to as reproducibility or computational reproducibility) and using the same data with different analyses (usually referred to as robustness).”
“Prior commentators have drawn distinctions between types of replication such as “direct” versus “conceptual” replication and argue in favor of valuing one over the other…By contrast, we argue that distinctions between “direct” and “conceptual” are at least irrelevant and possibly counterproductive for understanding replication and its role in advancing knowledge.”
“We propose an alternative definition for replication that is more inclusive of all research and more relevant for the role of replication in advancing knowledge. Replication is a study for which any outcome would be considered diagnostic evidence about a claim from prior research. This definition reduces emphasis on operational characteristics of the study and increases emphasis on the interpretation of possible outcomes.”
“To be a replication, 2 things must be true: outcomes consistent with a prior claim would increase confidence in the claim, and outcomes inconsistent with a prior claim would decrease confidence in the claim.”
“Because replication is defined based on theoretical expectations, not everyone will agree that one study is a replication of another.”
“Because there is no exact replication, every replication test assesses generalizability to the new study’s unique conditions. However, every generalizability test is not a replication…there are many conditions in which the claim might be supported, but failures would not discredit the original claim.”
“This exposes an inevitable ambiguity in failures-to-replicate. Was the original evidence a false positive or the replication a false negative, or does the replication identify a boundary condition of the claim?”
“We can never know for certain that earlier evidence was a false positive. It is always possible that it was “real,” and we cannot identify or recreate the conditions necessary to replicate successfully…Accumulating failures-to-replicate could result in a much narrower but more precise set of circumstances in which evidence for the claim is replicable, or it may result in failure to ever establish conditions for replicability and relegate the claim to irrelevance.”
“The term “conceptual replication” has been applied to studies that use different methods to test the same question as a prior study. This is a useful research activity for advancing understanding, but many studies with this label are not replications by our definition.”
“Recall that “to be a replication, 2 things must be true: outcomes consistent with a prior claim would increase confidence in the claim, and outcomes inconsistent with a prior claim would decrease confidence in the claim.”
“Many “conceptual replications” meet the first criterion and fail the second…“conceptual replications” are often generalizability tests. Failures are interpreted, at most, as identifying boundary conditions. A self-assessment of whether one is testing replicability or generalizability is answering—would an outcome inconsistent with prior findings cause me to lose confidence in the theoretical claims? If no, then it is a generalizability test.”
To read the article, click here.

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