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21 November 2008

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Patent_Medicine

I know of no "data orphanages," but it's an issue that many disciplines have wrestled with. Negative pharmaceutical data is probably the most high-profile.

When I was a graduate student in science, my field was plagued by a theory / method that no one could prove worked. Its developer insisted it worked wonderfully, but no one could repeat his successes. I shudder to think how many student theses were broken on that rock.

Finally, I saw a series of published articles, taking up about 20 pages in a major research journal. All by the same student and his advisor, one after the other: "X's Method Fails to Accomplish Y in Organism A," "X's Method Fails to Accomplish Y in Organism B," "X's Method Fails to Accomplish Y in Organism C," ...

What a hero, but how sad for him. A whole thesis of negative data.

I say "publish." Publish it as a research note, with the full data and analyses on the web.

Stuart Buck

How prevalent is this bias against "negative" results? It certainly doesn't exist in the education literature, where you'll find all sorts of scholars and journals who will leap at the chance to publish a study finding that vouchers or charter schools have "no effect" on test scores, etc.

Hopefully Anonymous

If he can't publish it anywhere else, why doesn't he put it on the internet? Anyone who could incorporate it into their own research or theory could discover his results through a search, and properly credit him. Better than sitting undiscoverable on a hard drive.

Julie Jones

A common problem in many disciplines. Link requires subscription:
http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=8802312&site=ehost-live

And for football fans, in tracking down the Science News article linked above that I remembered reading, I came across this re: football's OT bias. Important stuff.
http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/5582/title/Math_Trek__Footballs_Overtime_Bias

Sean Overland

I agree with the previous comment that a study like that should be published, but perhaps not as a fifty-page article. Why not a 5-page research note?

The other problem with null results is that they hint at possible methodological problems. Perhaps a meaningful relationship does exist between the variables of interest, but some problem -- perhaps in the data -- is masking it.

Theodore Eisenberg

If the research question is well-motivated and a reasonable power calculation has been done (to assure the study was large enough to detect an effect if it existed), there is no good reason for journals not to publish negative results. The key question is whether the question is of sufficient interest to warrant publication, not whether results are positive or negative. If the tortious interference scholars had published priors about the existence of a trend, and tortious interference is an important topic, and the article is otherwise sound, it should be published. For whatever interest it may be, JELS does not reject articles simply because of insignificant results.

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