Jul 26, 2013

Publishing negative results: An endless debate

Last October 26th, Nestoras Karathanasis asked at ResearchGate (a social networking site for scientists and researchers to share papers, ask and answer questions, and find collaborators) the following question:

“Would you publish your negative results? If not, why?”

Since then, the issue has continued attracting interest until this day, and just two hours before I started writing this article, there were over a hundred comments that have been made about this question from scientists around the world and the number was growing.

These data reveal the importance of this issue today. So in this article we want to show a small sample of the opinions raised in this debate encouraging you to read it and participate in these types of forums.

An interesting definition of a “negative result” is given by Hayford Ahiadu (Lincoln University New Zealand). He wrote "a -negative result- it is a successful elimination of the wrong way of doing the owners/same thing". And indeed it is like that, since the publication of duly justified negative results, avoid unnecessary loss of time and money on research.

Trond Amundsen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) states in a clear and direct way that: "Not publishing -negative results- (to a greater degree than positive ones) is misconduct. (...) It's misconduct by the scientist if not written up and submitted. It's misconduct by the Editor if accepted for publication often less than positive ones. Science has a very simple aim: to tell the truth about nature (...) Telling only the nice part of the story is misleading." In the same line of opinion, Manuel Durand Barthez (Regional Training Unit of Scientific and Technical Information) writes that "Publishing -negative results- may be considered in a way as an ethical duty."

It's a bit sad to read articles like the one found by Tatiana Korona (University of Warsaw) where it was written "Unfortunately, info we have not published our unsuccessful attempts The, although info we have made lots of observations which could have helped others to proceed on this road. It is interesting to see many of these unpublished observations turned out to be essential in the work of others over the past almost 20 years" (Mol. Phys 108, 3055-3065, 2010).

Cases like this show that one of the main problems is "to find a journal with high impact to accept and publish the results" as noted Fathi M Sherif (University of Tripoli). But this is not the only reason that explains why today the publication of “negative results” is not as widespread as we would like. Thus, although we can draw from this interesting discussion that much of the scientific community is increasingly concerned of the importance of the publication of "negative results" in research and many of them are still wary with this type of result because they believe that they are may be due to the experimental design, or the person conducting the experiment did it wrong. This is the reason why Mario X.

Ruiz-González (Spanish National Research Council), for example, thinks that “nobody can rely on negative results, unless they are obtained under highly restrictive conditions and controls.” On the contrary, “it represents a lot of work, and it's no help for other scientists to add to the flood of useless publications” thinks Daniel Corcos (Institute national de la santé et de la recherché médicale).

As you can see, there are a thousand and one opinions on this subject, but fortunately the number of people who believe that the publication of “negative results” account for the progress in research and optimization of resources is increasing.

Just we need to know: What do you think about it?

Full conversation can be read here

Written by Dr. Belén Suarez  and Dr. David Alcantara for The All Results Journals

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