Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Journal to Publish Unpublished Data........

I hope no one who ever has done scientific research especially biomedical research, would deny that majority of the hypotheses or experiments do fail and result in what we call as "negative data". Few of us would also accept rather confess that some of the negative data that they dealt with was important and may have otherwise resulted in revealing a new fact about an established theory, if was pursued further. However, owing to the fact that negative data do have less likelihood of being published and thus not helpful  for an early career scientist, almost all negative data are pre-destined to get buried in the volumes of laboratory notebooks, most often not to be read/looked at again even by a successor of that research group in future. Others in scientific fraternity besides few people working in the same group, do not generally have access to negative results, just because experimental outcomes that were not noteworthy or consistent enough to pass peer review and be published.

How could the availability of unpublished results be improved? I suggest an open-access journal for all research findings, which would let scientists submit their hypotheses and methodologies before an experiment, and their results afterwards, regardless of outcome. Yes, I am serious. However, such a journal or if I put it more practically, a database to accomodate all negative data would reveal how published studies fit into the larger set of conducted studies, and may help to answer many other unanswered questions that most of the scientific fraterny keeps wondering about.

A such database of unpublished findings will also address other shortcomings of the current scientific process, including the regular failure of scientists to report experiments, conditions or observations that are inconsistent with hypotheses; the addition or removal of participants and variables to generate statistical significance, and the probable existence of numerous published findings whose non-replicability is deemed mysterious because it is difficult and in many cases not worthwhile to spend your energy and time to report negative results.

There is a possibility that with availability of some such journal or database, people start finding some sort of trend rather a positive trend in series of negative data submitted by different unrelated group of investigators across the globe.  I can personally recall incidences while in informal gatherings, scientists especially those who are in early stage of their career, talking about their inability to replicate some established theories or findings and others approving that they had similar experience with replicating that so called "theory" or "finding". Most of them did not pursue it further, for the reasons described earlier. Now imagine a situation when someone disappointed from the negative results has ability to search through this "Journal of Unpublished Results" or "Unpublished Results: a Knowledge base" to see if there is a pattern in unpublished data.  I hope this is going to be extremely interesting if this could ever become possible.

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