Negative results
0 comment Sunday, June 22, 2014 |
Over at The Bean Chronicles, The Bean-mom has a nice post on a positive comment from a reviewer commending the authors of a paper on including data that don't necessarily support the authors' conclusions. I have commented as follows:The authors are to be commended...if science is about figuring it out (rather than making it up) as we go along then it's important to include stuff that doesn't make any sense when communicating finds...then someone else might see how it fits or changes the working model and *presto* get it figured out. Unfortunately that only works if the stuff that doesn't make sense ends up in the publication so other people can see it...but it won't get published with stuff that the authors can't explain...I think that this is a major flaw in the way we report our findings.To which The Bean-mom suggests perhaps an open-access type forum where researchers can share their negative or inexplicable results freely. I think that this is a really interesting proposition that seems to have been tossed around within the scientific community a bit but has never really taken off.As far as a solution, I'm not sure that open-access to pre-peer-reviewed publishable data is ever going to catch on. There's no control over whether or not someone will use those freely shared data to scoop the original investigator, and so much hangs on the publication record.I've heard rumors that there is (once was?) a Journal of Negative Results. Perhaps this is an urban myth? Whatever the case may be, I think that this is a great idea. Peer-reviewed toward ensuring that it was good science to begin with rather than poorly controlled experiments from which we learn nothing. But those mice without phenotypes would need not languish in obscurity and other investigators would need not waste their time reproducing these road-to-nowhere kinds of projects.The trouble is:Who wants to be the editor of such a journal? You could be buried under a mountain of submissions, most of which are not terribly interesting in terms of moving science forward, although they would do much toward NOT moving it sideways.Who wants to publish in such a journal? Preparing a manuscript for publication is not a small amount of work, especially for something that didn't work out into a nice story for a positive-result type of journal. Not to mention the fact that if we all published all of our negative results in journal form, the "failed" research on our CVs might start to overwhelm the interesting stories.At the end of the day the sharing of such information can be seen as being entirely altruistic - you've learned what you can from your negative results already. Writing them up and publishing them will assist other scientists, but probably doesn't do anything more for you. If everyone does it then everyone benefits...but I suspect that there is not sufficient energy of activation to overcome this problem.Not that I'm saying we shouldn't encourage this - we should! I just hope that maybe there are some other good ideas out there that would provide some incentive for scientists to include all their results so that the entire community can get the whole picture.

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