A new journal has just been created that publishes papers on negative results (for example, when an experimenter predicts that two variables are correlated and then finds out that they’re not). This journal, in my mind, will fill a crucial gap.
There is a phenomenon in science known as the “filing drawer effect” which refers to the fact that papers that fail to find a correlation where one was expected or where a popular hypothesis isn’t supported do not get published. Often, these papers aren’t published because statistical tests reveal that the sample size may not have been large enough to make any strong claims. In other cases, statistical tests reveal that the sample size was indeed large enough and that the hypothesis really was not supported under that set of conditions. In these cases, journals often choose to not publish the findings perhaps because these findings are less exciting than positive results.
It’s really unfortunate that negative results don’t get published more frequently as this can slow the pace of scientific progress. Knowing that a hypothesis wasn’t supported under a particular set of conditions may allow us to hone our understanding of a phenomenon. Additionally, some hypotheses don’t get discarded as quickly as they ought to because evidence against them hasn’t been made public. Finally, I hope that having this kind of journal around will encourage scientists to take chances and allow them to explore more risky but potentially very fruitful hypotheses as they won’t have to worry about being unable to publish their results after the project is completed.
I’m pleased to see that negative results will now have a home in The Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine. I hope that other fields will take a tip from the biomedical field and will create similar journals themselves.