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How important is it to publish negative results?

Over on Communication Breakdown today, Matt Shipman - in the first in a series of entries on the topic - explores negative results and the challenges of getting them published. (He writes, "...whether researchers are not submitting papers on negative results, or journals are not accepting them, the fact remains that negative results are not showing up in high-profile outlets.") This section also jumped out at me:

One senior researcher, who shall remain nameless, put it this way: “I think that most researchers in life science fields would not find these publications very useful. We are more interested in how things work rather than learning that our hypotheses were incorrect. That is, we use the failed experiments to adjust the hypotheses and conduct more experiments. Many times the negative results are included in research articles. I would not like to have to wade through tons of articles describing negative results because I would rather spend my time reading articles that tell me how things work.”

And that’s a problem facing at least some publishers who are actively looking for negative results to publish. Johan Kotze, of the University of Helsinki, is the editor of the Journal of Negative Results, which was established in 2003 to publish negative results in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology.

“We truly believe that by reporting negative results we will benefit the scientific community,” Kotze says. But Kotze reports that “we’re having trouble finding researchers to submit, perhaps mainly because, one, some think it’s a joke, while, two, others are so pressed with publishing in high-flying journals (to secure funding, etc.) that they’d rather try publishing in more established journals.”

Previously: How “negative” findings might advance biomedicine and A critical look at the difficulty of publishing “negative” results

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