Friday, 19 May 2017

Study on how rats process smell may address larger issue of experiment reproducibility

May 18, 2017 by Carla Reiter 

University of Chicago psychology professor Leslie Kay and her research group set out to resolve a 15-year-old scientific dispute about how rats process odors. What they found not only settles that argument, it suggests an explanation for the much written-about "replication crisis" in some fields of science and points to better ways of designing experiments. 

Reproducible experimental results are part of the bedrock of scientific method. But a concern is that researchers, particularly in psychology and medicine, are too often unable to replicate the findings of colleagues in other labs.

This has certainly been true of understanding how rats—and by extension, possibly humans—process smell. "There was simply a disagreement in the literature," Kay said. "Different labs tried to get the same result, and they were unsuccessful."

The diverging results came from two camps, doing similar but slightly different experiments. What Kay and her group found was that while both were correct, they were asking different questions without realizing it. Their experiments were not, in fact, comparable.

Kay's group's study, published this spring in Journal of Neuroscience, shows that the disparate conclusions arise from small but crucial differences in the way the two sets of experiments were set up. By eliminating those differences, and then doing both experiments rather than only one, the group was able to tease out similarities underlying the varying results and discover a general truth about how rats smell.

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