There is the widespread opinion in the scientific field that negative & no positive results are not usually published. It’s not because they are secret, nor because scientists keep them to themselves; It’s just because when they’re sent to scientific journals to be published the negative results are simply rejected.
Before starting our thesis on this issue, for those unfamiliar with the situation, negative & no positive results are, for example, “This drug using this vector and prepared this way does not work”; or “this method to fix tissue does not work”.
So, the main question here is: are these kind of outcomes important? Absolutely. Some people even say that they are as important as the positive results (i.e., a medical drug or method that does work). We disagree on that for the simple reason that there are thousands ways to do things wrong and, at best, a few to do them well; just like Charles Mayo said: “There are surgeons who repeat the same mistake a hundred times and they call that experience”.
However, it may happen that a scientific team get a negative result in a specific researching task following a promising methodology and then, another group elsewhere in the world might be thinking of using the same methodology in a similar research study without knowing that it’s not appropriate because the negative or no positive results from the other team haven’t been published.
Considering the fact that doing science is quite expensive, by publishing negative results the industry would potentially save a lot of money, time and effort. Millions of experiments are carried out annually in the biomedical science industry, yet more than 60% of the experiments conducted by research teams or international industry fail and are forgotten. Although these “secondary” experiments may be considered frustrating, they generate a lot of high-level knowledge and its dissemination would complement and increase the knowledge of other research teams working in the same research line with the same methods, allowing them to modify or replace procedures. Scientific research negative results are considered positive for the entire scientific community and help save costs of all kinds.
Unfortunately it is accepted the fact that it’s easier to publish experiments with positive results that agree with the investigator hypothesis, rather than those with negative results. Consequently, authors keep themselves from writing and sending their research negative results because they assume they won’t be published. However, it’s obvious that negative results are very valuable and we really believe that their publication is absolutely necessary because negative results awareness and dissemination can save a lot of time to researchers and institutions, preventing them from initiating pathways or focusing on aspects already explored by other scientists without success.
The regular publication of articles or reviews either with negative and positive results of our researching processes clearly would improve optimization of human resources and laboratory equipment. In addition, these outcomes can also help young researchers and postgraduate students complete their training by providing them with additional information before they start any research project.
We must also change the common idea that only the positive results can be quoted. Again, since a negative outcome is very useful and informative, why isn’t it quotable?: It’s very usual to find articles saying “we used this technique to produce this material”, but it’s hard to find one saying “we have not used this or that other technique, because it was found that did not work” It makes no sense!
In conclusion, due to their significance, we must always consider that all results are useful and of interest to all.
Dr. Pedro J. Tarraga
Prof. Jose A. Rodríguez