Does Not Compute

Scientific journal articles have a lot of numbers. Scientists are smart people with even smarter computers, so an outsider might think that, if nothing else, you can count on the math checking out. But modern data analysis is complicated, and computational reproducibility is far from guaranteed. In this episode, we discuss a recent set of articles published at the journal Cortex. A group of authors set out to replicate an influential 2010 article that claimed that if you reactivate a fear-laden memory, it becomes possible to change the emotional association – something with clear relevance to clinical practice. Along the way, the replicating scientists encountered anomalies which led them to try to reproduce the analyses in the original study – and they discovered that they could not. We talk about what this means for science. What are the implications of knowing that for a nontrivial number if scientific studies, the math doesn’t add up? Will a new era of open data and open code be enough to fix the problem? How much will Verification Reports – a new publication format that Cortex has introduced – help with that process? Plus: We answer a letter about swinging for the fences when your dream job comes up but you don’t feel ready yet.


The Black Goat is hosted by Sanjay Srivastava, Alexa Tullett, and Simine Vazire. Find us on the web at, on Twitter at @blackgoatpod, on Facebook at, and on instagram at @blackgoatpod. You can email us at You can subscribe to us on iTunes or Stitcher.


Our theme music is Peak Beak by Doctor Turtle, available on under a Creative Commons noncommercial attribution license. Our logo was created by Jude Weaver.


This is episode 82. It was recorded on August 10, 2020.