Replication Crisis! Thousands of CLU Studies aren’t repeatable because we don’t have enough Grad Students!

man wearing black and white stripe shirt looking at white printer papers on the wall

The replication crisis has officially hit Cranberry Lemon University! The reproducibility project has pressured our school hard asking us to reproduce results for thousands of experiments across just as many but not more than thousands of papers. As much as CLU’s special reproducibility task force would love to recreate these wonderful experiments, there aren’t enough grad students around to re-do the complicated experiments and analysis.

Back in the early 2010’s when the replication crisis had begun hitting the news, the tenured professors of CLU believed that we were safe. “What usually gets colleges, especially in the psych department is the publication bias towards publishing significant results. Here at Cranberry Lemon, we pride ourselves in our confidence in publishing insignificant results even more often,” CLU Electrical Engineering Professor Gabi Summers commented “But damnit, every so often some of my students ends up getting it right and we have to publish those results and defend it. Next they’ll rush off to some high paying tech job in Austin and now, no one’s here to recreate the results. I NEED MORE GRAD STUDENTS!”

Typically in reproducing papers, trouble comes from not having a clearly defined methodology and not having responsive or cooperative authors. The papers from CLU may have that impossible to decipher methodology as is tradition, but for some reason all of the grads seem to respond lightning fast to inquiries on their papers. As shown in table 1 below, while only 8 out of 1284 papers had a repeatable methodology, over 900 authors were available to respond to answer questions about their own research. This unheard of amount of cooperation confirms the professor’s worst fears that their former students are not busy at all and most likely single and bored.

Papers Total
Published1284
Significant Results283
Clearly defined methodology8
Responsive authors953
Grad Students available to repeat experiment5
Reproduced papers3
Table 1: Papers able to be reproduced

“I couldn’t believe someone wanted to recreate my own experiment,” former CLU psychology masters student Emily Barck and author of Happiness may be more of a personality trait: An Expansive Psychological Study. “My paper has literally gotten zero citations. With this reproducibility effort, it’s the most attention it’s gotten since I graduated. I found out that my masters degree didn’t prepare me for anything other than proof I was responsible enough for this boring office job. Answering questions about the last interesting thing I’ve ever done when I get home is the absolute highlight of my day! Too bad I can’t help with the study though.”

Emily may have to wait a while until her paper does get reviewed and reproduced. While the reproducibility team has everything it needs to recreate their papers, they are totally understaffed. Currently, there is a team of five grad students working on the problem. There’s Matthew, who’s in anthropology. Brad from the biology department. Rachel’s on her 5th year towards a physics doctorate. Catherine is in the middle of a mechanical engineering masters before she goes on to design HVAC systems. Finally, Jeffrey is getting his post-pre med degree. They are our crack team of professionals tearing through old research paper after paper.

From left to right: Matthew, Brad, Rachel, Catherine, Jeffrey weirdly sitting on the same side of the table. No wonder they're so far behind in fixing the replication crisis
From left to right: Matthew, Brad, Rachel, Catherine, Jeffrey weirdly sitting on the same side of the table. No wonder they’re so far behind

They have access to CLU’s second best conference room and free printer access during normal business hours. They even have been promised academic credit on this project, but it’s still not enough. The backlog of not yet reproduced papers is still too enormous for our heroic crack team of unpaid researchers. Currently funds are being moved around to provide Little Caesar’s Hot n’ Readies every other Thursday night to keep up their morale. God willing, there will be enough left over for crazy bread too.

“I’m up to my eyeballs in running these studies,” Rachel Hume commented. “These papers are absolute garbage, but at least honest the authors are honest about it. Just because the paper says the results were inconclusive doesn’t mean I don’t need to get yet another group of willing participants in all of these studies or re-run the analysis from some mislabeled equations to show that the results still are inconclusive, and that’s just the best case scenario. At least a quarter of these methodologies don’t even post their code like a monster!”

Cranberry Lemon’s academic reputation is on the brink of collapse unless these unpaid grad students make some real progress this year. There has been some concern that Rachel may graduate soon destroying any hope of getting any more studies reproduced. We can only hope that she keeps procrastinating on finishing her own dissertation because she’s the only grad student who seems to know how to do anything in the group. Maybe she’ll teach the other students enough to keep going. Otherwise CLU will just be one of many universities caught up in the Replication crisis.

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Published by B McGraw

B McGraw has lived a long and successful professional life as a software developer and researcher. After completing his BS in spaghetti coding at the department of the dark arts at Cranberry Lemon in 2005 he wasted no time in getting a masters in debugging by print statement in 2008 and obtaining his PhD with research in screwing up repos on Github in 2014. That's when he could finally get paid. In 2018 B McGraw finally made the big step of defaulting on his student loans and began advancing his career by adding his name on other people's research papers after finding one grammatical mistake in the Peer Review process.

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