Making the most of negative results

How often have we lamented that obtaining negative results has stymied productivity and gotten in the way of career progression? After all, no reputable journal will accept negative results, and without publications we may as well throw our science careers out the window.

The problem is that negative results ARE results nonetheless. While they may not be as sexy as positive data, negative data are a consequence of hard work and should be considered just as important as positive data.

One reason for this observed bias can likely be attributed to the early stages of scientific methodology. All scientific experiments start out with background research that leads to a hypothesis. The overwhelming number of scientists hypothesize that treatment A will result in consequence B happening to subject C. Very few scientists will hypothesize that treatment A will not result in any changes to subject C. Who wants to do THAT kind of experiment.

What we often fail to remember is that the hypothesis is really just an educated guess which must honestly be proven to be either correct or incorrect. Unfortunately, only hypotheses that are proven correct end up making it past the cutting room floor of the high-impact journals which is akin to rewarding good guessing over hard work.

In an effort to recognize the important contribution of hard-working scientists who’s experiments have concluded with negative results, an online database called Figshare has been created as a global repository for all the unpublished negative data coming out of hard-working science labs.

The idea is to have scientists publish ALL their negative data in the database. The database is open access and therefore any information stored there can be used freely by other scientists as long as it is properly attributed.

At the very least, such a system helps prevent other scientists from wasting untold amounts of money repeating the same experiment only to eventually come up with similar negative results. Whats-more, should your data eventually be published by another researcher, you will receive a citation and perhaps even an opportunity for collaboration.

As is written on the figshare website:

Unless we as scientists publish all of our data, we will never achieve access to the sum of all scientific knowledge.

Although Figshare cannot replace the thrill of publishing in a top-tiered scientific journal, it should help take away the sting of negative results and lead to an appreciation for all scientific data both positive and negative.

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One Response to “Making the most of negative results”

  1. Lewis says:

    That is a good database, though very new. I received last week some info about The All Results Journals:Biol

    a new journal for publishing negative results in Biology (basic and applied). I think these tools will improve a lot the actual scientific disciplines if, of course, researchers start to send their negative results articles to the journal or the database.

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