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Biological variation is more than random noise

Bernhard Voekl, Animal Welfare Division, University of Bern Related


Biological variation is more than random noise by Bernhard Voelkl. 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-dependent 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 behavioral 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.