Valdir Aguilera
 Físico e pesquisador



Reproducibility, a Dogma of Science

Valdir Aguilera

In a nutshell, reproducibility is the quality which is attributed to a phenomenon when it can be reproduced. For science, this quality is essential so that the phenomenon can reach scientific status. Scientists demand that it be possible for independent researchers to reproduce any phenomenon that has been reported. Otherwise the story is simply left out, or even despised. However, there are important situations that require a loosening of this requirement.

Condition R&R (Reproducibility and Repeatability)

Science emerged when it came to include in its theories the necessity of observation, of making experiments. At that moment, it became detached from philosophy and started to have its own personality.

Reproducibility is one of the canons of science. If a phenomenon cannot be reproduced, it does not become scientifically accepted or proven. In fact, science is more demanding. For a result to be awarded the scientific title, it has to satisfy the "R&R condition", that is, have the quality of reproducibility and repeatability. This means that the confirmation of a result must be obtained by repetition of the experiment using different samplings, and reproduction using different demonstrations and different equipment.

It is understood that the scientific method must impose the R&R condition, since it allows eliminating preconceptions or human errors that may affect the outcome of an experiment. How many results were reported and then it turned out that the experiment was poorly planned and worse executed! A few decades ago an American physicist published a paper announcing that he had detected gravitational waves in an experiment he had prepared and performed. Immediately other physicists, in various laboratories in that country and in other parts of the world, tried to reproduce the experience. All of them gave negative results, that is, the alleged gravitational waves were not detected. Not even the original experimenter was able to repeat it with the previously announced result. As a result, gravitational waves do not have a scientifically proven existence, although there is evidence that they exist. The search for these waves still continues - including at USP (University of Sao Paulo, Brazil), where there is a device designed and built specifically for this purpose - because its existence is predicted by the respectable Theory of Gravitation, by Einstein.


Returning to the question of reproducibility, science also accepts as being reproducible the results obtained in an experiment and having in its favor a theoretical probability of occurring in another instance of the same experiment. In other words, there are experiences whose results cannot be predicted with certainty, but which are within certain probabilities of reproduction. For example, if a blue-eyed person marries a black-eyed person and his or her child is born with black eyes, the same "experience" does not guarantee that the next child will also have black eyes. This experience is not exactly reproducible, but the criterion of reproducibility is not considered to be violated because the result can be predicted within certain probabilities. Whether the child will be born with black or blue eyes is a matter settled by chance.

There are, therefore, results of experiments that do not obey the R&R condition, but are considered scientific. Besides the above example in Biology, we can find many others in the field of Psychology. "These are not exact sciences, like physics," some will argue. Are they right? Is Physics really an exact science? The theory that Modern Physics cherishes with the greatest affection is Quantum Theory. If someone thinks this theory is accurate, it is because they know little or nothing about it.

Let us return to the question of the R&R condition, which we know to be unsatisfied neither by Biology nor by Psychology. Why do experiments in these areas do not satisfy that condition, and yet their results are considered scientific? In fact, we have two questions here: Why do not they satisfy the R&R condition, and yet why are they considered scientific?

The second question is easier to answer if we do not concern ourselves with philosophical rigor and stick to definitions. Thus, we answer: the results are scientific by definition, because Biology and Psychology are formal sciences, not exact ones is true, but they are sciences.

Biological systems challenge physics

And why do experiments in the field of Biology and Psychology not necessarily satisfy the R&R condition? Simply because the instruments with which the experiments are performed, - human being, animals, vegetables -, have life, have intelligence, taken in its broadest sense.

Biological systems challenge one of the most basic theories of physics, thermodynamics. Put simply, one of the fundamental laws of thermodynamics, the law of entropy, states that disorder in the universe tends to increase, that is, the entropy, or disorder, of the Universe is ever increasing or stable but never decreases. This is undoubtedly true of physical systems in general. However, biological systems, although they are also physical systems, undoubtedly violate this law. These systems develop in such a way that their parts are organized in an orderly fashion. And no one knows how to exactly explain the reason for this "strange" behavior, nor what is its cause.

The violation of this law of physics occurs because in these systems there is life. We must then understand what life is, what produces it. Scientists have tried, futilely, to find the source of life in matter and the laws of chance. Based on the hypothetical big bang, the universe and all that is found and manifested in it would be fortuitous events, fruits of chance. It is amusing to note that if they could not rely on the chance hypothesis, scientists would drift aimlessly, at random!

The R&R condition in microscopic phenomena

It is not just the biological and psychological phenomena that violate the R&R condition. In Physics, perhaps the most respected science today, there are situations where the condition is not and cannot be satisfied. A situation of apparent discomfort, but physicists live peacefully with it. It is at this point that we return to Quantum Theory.

Physical experiments performed in the microcosm domains are far from satisfying the R&R condition. The emerging results of these experiments can be reproduced and explained only within certain probabilities. For example, a sample of uranium 238 is constantly emitting alpha particles (nucleus of the helium atom, formed by two protons and two neutrons). If at any given moment it emits one of these particles, this does not mean that it will emit another in the next second (we are not concerned with quantitative details; it could be in the next millionth of a second or in the next few hours). One can, of course, calculate the probability of this occurring. But it's just a probability, not a certainty that occurs in that time frame.

Einstein's phrase referring to Quantum Theory is famous: "God does not play dice". He wanted to say that Quantum Theory needs to rely on probabilities because science has not yet uncovered some secrets of nature, that is, we have to discover some law or parameters that still insist on remaining hidden or elusive.

What law or parameters could be? We believe the answer is not as complicated as it may seem. However, before proceeding, we can find in the books 'Fatos Espiritas' (Portuguese edition of Spiritist Facts) [of William CROOKES, physicist inventor of cathode ray tubes], Teleportation Phenomena [Ernesto BOZZANO, Italian researcher in the field of metapsychics, with more than 50 published works] and Levitation [Albert de ROCHAS, director of the École Polytechnique, Paris] physical phenomena reported by accredited researchers with long experience in developing projects and performing laboratory experiments at the universities where they worked. As all these phenomena require the presence of a medium to be performed, scientists did not and still do not give them importance. Firstly because the subject causes them dislike and prejudice: if a medium enters the scene, a mystification is inevitable, they hastily conclude; second because the phenomena are not reproduced when they want. Therefore, they do not satisfy the R&R condition.

Other phenomena, as we have seen, also do not satisfy this condition and are considered scientific. We have seen that the reason is that these phenomena occur in living systems, that is, behind them there is a crucial element, life. Behind the mediumistic phenomena, the life element is also crucial. The phenomena are produced by natural forces that religions call spirits (souls). They are intelligent forces and endowed with will of their own. Ignorance of the nature of these forces has led to the mistaken idea that spirits are entities with arms, legs, head and ... even beards! And other absurdities. It is as if it were explained that the force of gravity acts on bodies using hands.

The medium is nothing more than an instrument. It is not the cause of phenomena, as a scales is not the cause of the weight of an object. The cause of the phenomena reported in those books - and many others - are forces that require a medium to act, just as a force needs a lever to move a rock.

Moreover, unlike gravity that constantly acts and is permanently at our disposal to carry out experiments that involve it, the forces that act with the help of a medium have a will of their own. The R&R condition will be satisfied if these intelligent forces decide or are able to reproduce the phenomenon. Similarly, the result of an experiment in a physics laboratory, for example, will only be achieved if the experimenter wishes to perform it. Experiments are only reproduced if there is intervention of the will of the experimenter.

Study of the forces of nature

Everything in the universe comes down to forces and matter. The latter is inert, pliable; the former constantly acting on matter. Science will take a huge step when scientists are willing to study forces for themselves, not as something emerging from matter.

This step will be even greater when they discover that there are intelligent forces, endowed with their own will, forces that, unfortunately, have been surrounded by mysticisms and legends.

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