Troubleshooting Replication Studies (in Music)

We’ve already reposted Marie-Claire’s post on Tegan & Sara’s rendition of Walking with a Ghost, which, depending on your pedantic devotion to the definition of irony, may or may not have been ironic. Marie-Claire’s post used the comparison between Tegan & Sara’s original and The White Stripes cover to talk about replication studies in science.

On Wednesday, The Nerdist Podcast released an interview with Tegan & Sara, in which they talk about their careers, motivations, inspirations, pet giraffes, and asteroid-induced apocalypses. This reminded me of a key principle of understanding replication studies in science: you need to understand not only what the people were doing, but also the people.

One of the key issues in replication of science is the difficulty of conducting precise experiments in different labs, with different people, and using different equipment1. Replication is very important for science. It is simple in concept. It is can also be very hard.

Studies can fail to replicate for a variety of reasons. Often it is that one of the parties has intentionally or unintentionally done something different than the other group. Troubleshooting is the art of figuring out what that something is, who did it, and why they did it. The outcome of that analysis can be very important for our interpretation of the conclusions.

So, if you want to understand the variation between Tegan & Sara’s Walking with a Ghost and The White Stripes’ replication, you need to start with understanding Tegan & Sara better. If you really want to go down this rabbit hole with me, you can pay to listen to Marc Maron interview Jack White on his WTF Podcast too.

1. As we have noted repeatedly here at The Finch & Pea, the ENCODE Consortium did a very impressive job of dealing with this difficulty independent of one’s opinion regarding certain conclusions published by the consortium or whether the project was “worth” the resources it consumed.

Author: Josh Witten

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