The importance of publishing negative results

Everybody likes positive results. But the fact is that they are the less, especially when you talk about Science.

Many scientific journals skew towards only publishing «positive» data; that is, data that successfully proves a hypothesis. Others, like The All Results Journals are the home for negative or «secondary» data: experimental documentation of hypotheses that turn out not to be true, or other experiments that do not lead to an advance of a specific hypothesis but are, nevertheless, a true rendering of that experiment. For example, if a researcher set up a cell-based experiment and the experiment did not work in a particular set of conditions, it would be very useful for other researchers to know this (to avoid time and money wasting and better planning).

There is a huge untapped resource of experimental data locked up in laboratory notebooks that could be of great service to the scientific community at large. Many experiments fail to produce results or expected discoveries. This high percentage of ‘failed’ research can still generate high quality knowledge. The main objective of The All Results Journals is to recover and publish these valuable pieces of scientific information.

As they (The All Results Journals) continue publishing negative results, the newer generation of researchers will not waste their time and money repeating the same studies and finding the same results (negative in this case). Negative results are high-level pieces of knowledge that deserves to be published. Some authors have pointed out elsewhere the problem of publication bias, a well-known phenomenon in clinical literature, in which positive results have a better chance of being published, are published earlier, and are published in journals with higher impact factors. So this is a real problem.

As scientists we strive for remarkable observations within biological systems that will further expand our understanding of the human condition, aging, cancer, autoimmunity, etc. Sometimes the pieces just don’t add up. These negative results in Biology drive our next step at the bench but are rarely published. Bringing to light these types of observations under peer review will improve our society for the greater good. If you make accessible a manuscript about what didn’t work you can build on the mistakes of others rather than simply repeat them. Instead of three steps forward and two steps back, Science could just move forward.

In Cancer research or chemotherapeutic development, for example, the trend is to publish data showing efficacy. We’d offer that inefficacy could also be of great importance to the scientific community. What agents failed, in what types of cancer and why; the latter question albeit difficult to answer. One could imagine the same trends emerging from this type of work in terms of gene expression profiling, proteomics and biomarkers. Agent X will not be effective in cancer Y because of overexpression of biomarker Z. A manuscript focused on the inefficacy of a particular chemotherapeutic agent could assist in moving the cancer biology field forward by offering a forum to share with the greater cancer research community the same negative findings that may have contributed to the development of a highly effective agent.

Just the tip of the iceberg are being published in Science; only positive results. Projects like The All Results Journals:Chem target to publish rigorously performed chemical studies producing negative results. These type of journals are trying to get out the water the complete iceberg (the whole study, showing «All Results» of the author, the complete picture of his research topic, the real job done, not only the positive outcomes). Scientists have the responsibility to study Nature and report everything, and this includes reporting the negative findings. Even more: the research projects might have been funded by public agencies, and that means public money… In part, funding agencies have some responsibility; they should also incentivize the publishing of all results (specially negative results) not only positive.