Audit Notes: Reproducibility, Daily Show, Boeing Settlement

The Wall Street Journal has a very good page-one story today reporting on how most peer-reviewed medical studies can’t be reproduced by other researchers.

Reproducibility is the foundation of all modern research, the standard by which scientific claims are evaluated. In the U.S. alone, biomedical research is a $100-billion-year enterprise. So when published medical findings can’t be validated by others, there are major consequences…

Unlike pharmaceutical companies, academic researchers rarely conduct experiments in a “blinded” manner. This makes it easier to cherry-pick statistical findings that support a positive result. In the quest for jobs and funding, especially in an era of economic malaise, the growing army of scientists need more successful experiments to their name, not failed ones. An explosion of scientific and academic journals has added to the pressure…

In September, Bayer published a study describing how it had halted nearly two-thirds of its early drug target projects because in-house experiments failed to match claims made in the literature.

The German pharmaceutical company says that none of the claims it attempted to validate were in papers that had been retracted or were suspected of being flawed. Yet, even the data in the most prestigious journals couldn’t be confirmed, Bayer said.

Disturbing. Science has much more.

— Jon Stewart and The Daily Show take a look at that Bloomberg Markets report on how banks secretly profited from Federal Reserve bailouts:

Speaking of the Journal and framing, here’s the lede to yesterday’s page one story about the settlement between Boeing and its machinists’ union (emphasis mine):

Boeing Co. and leaders of its main union reached a tentative settlement that could end one of the biggest U.S. labor disputes in recent times but leave unresolved key questions about the government’s right to determine where companies locate their plants.

That doesn’t fairly portray what happened there. The government isn’t telling companies where they can locate their plants. It’s telling them that they can’t retaliate against workers exercising their rights by moving work elsewhere:

The NLRB accused Boeing of illegally shifting union work to a nonunion facility, allegedly in retaliation for previous strikes, a charge Boeing contests.

Boeing may contest it, but it’s pretty clear that they moved the plant in response to legal labor actions, and that’s against the law. If the CEO had kept his mouth shut, the union would have had no case. Here’s what he said on a conference call with investors:

“Diversifying our labor pool and labor relationships has some benefits. … Some of the modest inefficiencies associated with a move to Charleston are certainly more than overcome by strikes happening every three or four years in Puget Sound and the very negative financial impact on the company.


My preference is to do the work here in the future. But we’ll do work here if we can make sure that we have the stability of the production lines and we can be competitive over the long haul. … I’m very hopeful as we continue to have discussions with the union that we’ll be able to come up with ways of being competitive here and we can come up with ways of ensuring that we’re not going to have labor strikes. … None of us are going to have jobs if we continue to have strikes that go on for three or four months every three years.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,