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A New Account of Replication in the Experimental Life Sciences

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


The life sciences are said to be in the midst of a replication crisis because (1) a majority of published results are irreproducible, and (2) scientists rarely replicate existing data. Here I argue that point 2 of this assessment is flawed because there is a hitherto unidentified form of replication in the experimental life sciences, which I call ‘microreplications’ (MRs). Using a case study from biochemistry, I illustrate how MRs depend on a key element of experimentation, namely, experimental controls. I end by reflecting on what MRs mean for the broader debate about the replication crisis.

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To contact the author, please write to: Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, London School of Economics, Lakatos Building, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE; e-mail:

I would like to thank John Dupré, Roman Frigg, Sabina Leonelli, Jutta Schikore, and Nicolas Wüthrich for critical input on this or an earlier version of this article. The research leading to this article received funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant PA00P1_134166) and the European Research Council (grant 324186) under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013).


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