What do you do with a null results dataset? A colleague wanted to study trends in tortious interference cases in the U.S. over the last 20 years. He had some firm priors but was going to conduct the study with an open mind (hence the title of this post). We designed a data collection protocol, pulled a sample of 100 cases (an adequate number given his priors) and set an RA to work. Nothing. We redesigned the protocol, pulled another sample, set another RA to work, and again nothing. After 8 months there are no meaningful temporal or cross-sectional variations in the data. These are all civil jury trials so there may be a story about the continuity of juries. But he's not that interested in collecting more data, or even writing up what he's learned so far. No one wants to read about what he didn't find.
There is a publication bias against negative results. Michael Heise blogged about it here a couple of years ago. Attempts have been made to unbias the bias, but success is limited. Most of us are probably not in the mood to finish a 50+ page paper with null results, so the idea of nurturing an ELS journal or SSRN site for that purpose is not high on my list. The data, on the other hand, are finished: collected, cleaned, documented. There is nothing wrong with them, yet they are orphaned on a hard drive. Is there a data orphanage?