Bernhard Voekl: Biological variation is more than random noise

Whenever we are studying living organisms, we are faced with inherent biological variation, which is distinct from random noise or measurement error. Biological variation is the sum of genetic variation, environmentally induced variation, and the interaction of both. That is, the response of an organism to a treatment (e.g. a drug) depends not only on the treatment but also on the state of the organism, which is as much the product of past and present environmental influences as of its genetic architecture. This context-de- pendent responsiveness presents a unique challenge to reproducibility in all areas of biomedical research. Fully acknowledging this, requires adopting a reaction norm perspective on physiological and behavioural responses. The gist of the reaction norm approach is to abandon the idea of a “true” population parameter and it entails a fundamental re-thinking of parameter estimation, statistical inference and interpretation of study results in the life sciences.

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Bernhard Voekl

Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Bern

Bernhard Voelkl is a postdoctoral researcher at the Veterinary Public Health Institute of the University of Bern, Switzerland. He studied biology and zoology at the University of Vienna receiving his PhD in 2005. He is an evolutionary ecologist who has worked with various study species (primates and birds) both in the field and the lab. The topic of his early research focused on cooperation and social information propagation in animal communities and animal social networks.He has worked as postdoctoral researcher at the CNRS-Strasbourg, the Humboldt University at Berlin and the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology at the University of Oxford. He is scientific coordinator of Waldrappteam and elected fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. Recently he has turned his attention towards the reproducibility of preclinical animal studies and investigates how the norm of reaction affects biological variability and reproducibility of study results in biomedical animal research.