But he and others say that the HONEST Act is a disingenuous solution to that real problem. In practice, it would “gratuitously handcuff” the EPA and prevent it from considering studies are necessarily less transparent, including those that use confidential medical records or proprietary information. The Act would also force the agency to do a lot of extra costly work—either redacting confidential information, or asking scientists to dredge up all the data and code from old studies. “It won’t produce regulations based on more open science,” says Eisen. “It’ll just produce fewer regulations.”
Calling for reproducibility “is a good thing if being done in an economic vacuum, but given their budget, that’s a crippling constraint,” adds Jeff Leek, a statistician at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the HONEST Act would take $250 million a year to enforce, and Trump’s recent budget blueprint would slash ten times that from the agency’s pocket. “I’m very much in favor of reproducibility, but if we make those kinds of demands we need to fund them,” says Leek.
The reproducibility movement is already asking researchers to do more with less. At a time when federal science funding had hit a plateau, scientists were told to upload their data to online repositories, and spend more time replicating each other’s work. That takes time, money, and effort, and is less likely to secure the glamorous publications that are critical for grants, careers, and prestige.
On top of that, Trump is now proposing to cut $5.8 billion from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $900 million from the Office of Science at the Department of Energy, and $250 million from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These cuts would worsen the very conditions that lead to sloppy science in the first place, by creating a hyper-competitive world in which researchers are incentivized to cut corners and get “exciting” but unreliable results.
Some scientists are also worried that the reproducibility movement could provide law-makers with justification for their cuts. “The way it could get weaponized is by saying: Just stop the false stuff, keep the true stuff, and we can cut half the budget,” says Nosek. “But that’s like saying the roads have a lot of potholes, so we should ban driving.”
These concerns are keenly felt in psychology—the field at the epicenter of reproducibility shake-up. “For years, there have been attempts by Republicans to do away with social science funding at the National Science Foundation,” says Buck. “That’s led to sensitivity about “attacking” the reproducibility of social science research, because it could play into those efforts. ‘Let’s not talk about the problems in research because it’ll cause ourselves too much trouble and sweep it under the rug.’”