Distinguishing scientific results from experimental artifacts

While conducting fieldwork at a lab at Princeton University, Talia Dan-Cohen, associate professor of sociocultural anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, observed a common but perplexing problem. For her book “A Simpler Life: Synthetic Biological Experiments,” Dan-Cohen was tracking the work of practitioners in the developing field of synthetic biology, and she noticed two researchers discussing the same peer review report again and again. For months, the scientists had a hard time convincing reviewers that what they saw as the big result of their work was actually a result at all rather than an artifact, or a flaw in the data caused by their equipment or technique.

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