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Where to publish negative results

I met a final year PhD student once, who told me a sad story. His supervisor had a plausible idea that exercise reduces the chances of developing bowel cancer. To test the hypothesis, the student made a transgenic mouse with an increased incidence of bowel cancer and got the mice to run (or not run) on hamster wheels. Unfortunately, there was no correlation between the amount of exercise and disease occurrence and progression and the student was unable to publish his results.

It has always puzzled me that  while it is relatively easy to publish positive findings (A correlates with B), it is almost impossible to make public the opposite – C doesn’t correlate with D – on the same topic,  despite carefully designed and  meticulously executed experiments and their brilliant analysis.

I think, at least in part, this happens because nobody, least of all reviewers, likes a story without a happy ending.  As a result of this, many a PhD student spends at least three or more years testing out a good idea discovering that no, it doesn’t work like that and finishing his or her PhD without a publication. This means that, just as he is getting his degree, at the other end of the globe a new PhD student may be starting a similar project due to the negative results of the first study not being published. This repetition is a waste of funding, not to mention negative effects on both PhD students careers.

However, by switching publishing from the printed model to digital publishing the “you don’t talk about negative results” model is changing. You can deposit your negative results in databases and even publish as a paper in a peer-reviewed journal.

f1000research.com

A part of digital biomedical publisher Faculty of 1000, F1000 research is an open access, peer reviewed journal. However, the reviewing takes place post-publishing – never again see your competitors miraculously publish very similar data while your paper languished in the limbo of reviewing. You can update newer versions of your paper as frequently as you like. And your first submission with negative findings 2013 can be published for free until September 30th, quote MANCLS13.

PeerJ

PeerJ is an open access peer-reviewed journal. It charges a one off fee for an author, currently $99 for publishing of one paper. Unusually, the reviews are published alongside with the paper. The papers are indexed in  PubMed and other major databases.

figshare

Figshare is a free database, which allows uploading and sharing of data including papers. Each object has a unique Digital Object Identifier (DOI), which enables searching for and sharing the document.

ArXiv

Is a well-established database of preprints, mostly for math, physics and computational sciences, but they also include papers on quantitative biology. The papers are not peer-reviewed but they are curated to weed out pseudoscience and the papers can be found via Google Scholar.  The option of later updating the manuscript is also available.

The view that negative results are not worthless and make an important contribution to scientific knowledge is gaining momentum amongst researchers. This will drive demand for publication methods similar those detailed in this article and ensure important findings are published,

Do you know of other models or methods of publishing negative results?

4 Comments

  1. bsuarezjimenez on November 27, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Since 2008 The All Results Journals, published by the Society for the Improvement of Science (SACSIS)(http://esacsis.arjournals.com/), is focused on recovering and publishing negative results.

    Have a look here!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrG-VQYPt7c

    These experiments should be taken into account as a vital key for the development of science. These negative results are the catalyst for a real science-based empirical knowledge.

    Thanks a lot!

  2. Kurt Lager on August 22, 2013 at 5:41 am

    Nature had a correspondence letter where they discussed publishing of negative results two years ago. There the specifically mention:

    Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine.
    The Journal of Negative Results — Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
    The psychology Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis. There is a forum in the Journal of Universal Computer Sciences for negative results.
    PLoS ONE

    http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1038/471448e

    • Kurt Lager on August 22, 2013 at 5:42 am

      The most common place to find negative results is of cause in PhD Thesis, they should be used a lot more as sources of information.

    • Vicki Doronina on August 26, 2013 at 11:19 am

      Thanks for other examples. I knew about PLoS One, but it is too expensive for my taste.

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