Unfortunately, this story came out on March 28th, and it is not a joke.

During a decade as head of global cancer research at Amgen, C. Glenn Begley identified 53 “landmark” publications — papers in top journals, from reputable labs — for his team to reproduce. Begley sought to double-check the findings before trying to build on them for drug development.

Result: 47 of the 53 could not be replicated. He described his findings in a commentary piece published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Thanks to Russ Roberts for the pointer.

Good thing that research at universities is not corrupted by the profit motive, the way it is at drug companies.

My reaction to this story is somewhat optimistic. We can fix this problem. If government and other funders of research were to shift more resources toward replication, this would do two things. First, it would catch more bad science sooner. Second, it would take away some of the incentive to do bad science, because it would raise the risk of getting caught.

Unfortunately, the situation in economics is much more difficult. Very little research involves repeatable experiments. What natural sciences might try to achieve with replication we can at best achieve by doing meta-analysis of many studies using different methods to analyze the same issue.