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Journals of Negative Results

2010 February 10

Scientific publishing culture is such that typically only studies with well-thought out theoretical backing and empirical evidence supporting that theory tends to get published.  The reason is not necessarily that studies without empirical support are worthless – rather, the problem is that there is limited journal space available.  Studies that find what they set out to find are seen as more valuable than those that don’t.

The problem is that all these unpublished studies, despite providing potentially useful information, are just that – unpublished, and difficult to find.  Imagine this situation:

  1. Researcher A uses Technique to address the Problem
  2. Technique fails to address the Problem
  3. Researcher A tries to publish results, but they are negative, and cannot do so
  4. Researcher B uses Technique to address the Problem

And the cycle continues.  In the social sciences (like psychology), things aren’t quite so clear cut, since we more typically are trying to explain more subtle processes.  But the problem is the same – unpublished studies are useful, but difficult to locate.

This led to me creating filedrawer,org, an online unpublished papers database in psychology.  It’s fairly empty, but it fills a need.  It essentially allows researchers to make their unpublished papers available to a wider audience.  There is no peer review, because it is just an online database.  It’s called “filedrawer” as a tribute to the so-called file drawer effect: the problem that unpublished (although still valid) studies usually bias meta-analytic effect estimates away from zero.

In the computational and life sciences, a new journal designed for such data has been created: the Journal of Serendipitous and Unexpected ResultsJSUR aims to put such studies through peer review, and if their methods are sound, publish them.  In Biology, the Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine has been around since around 2002, and the Journal of Negative Results has been publishing such data in ecology and evolutionary biology since 2004.

Where are the peer-reviewed journals in the social sciences?  Well, as far as I can tell, they don’t exist.  I’m not really sure why.  I guess filedrawer.org will have to do for now…

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  1. Jacob S. permalink
    February 21, 2010

    I am happy to see you have set this up! I had a similar idea a couple of years ago, but didn’t have the resources really set it up. We could really use a SSRN-type site for psychology, including a section for negative results. I will keep this in mind for the future.

  2. February 24, 2011

    Fortunately more people are interested in publishing negative results. In “hard” sciences I found recently The All Results Journals, the idea is pretty cool too. But it seems to be very hard to get papers for publication (checking https://www.filedrawer.org I saw there are only a few of them) and I guess this is a biggest problem (do the authors really want to publish their negative results??). Everybody wants to see OTHERS negative results, but publishing your own is another question.
    It is sad but, what can we really do for changing this trend?

  3. Lewis permalink
    July 1, 2011

    It is interesting that people are more and more thinking on publishing negative results. I’ve recently discovered The All Results Journals, a new journal focus on publishing negative results and think the idea is great.
    Have a look to their published articles (they are good, believe me) at:

    http://www.arjournals.com/ojs/index.php?journal=Biol&page=issue&op=current

    and

    http://www.arjournals.com/ojs/index.php?journal=Chem&page=issue&op=current

    Their slogan is also great (in my opinion) : All your results are good results! (specially the negative)
    Cheers,
    Lewis

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