When you are a research student, there is one inconvenient truth that comes early to you. You are not allowed to find negative results. It will ruin your future. Nobody will publish your work, and you will never receive any awards. So, research students stay away from negative results. However important or novel they are, they are hidden in a box in some basement after twelve long months of hard work and a piece of the scientist inside dies.
If we look at the history of science, let us say dating back to cavemen experimenting with arrows. Negative results were those that helped us move forward, put theories and practices behind us so that we could find new ones. And if my arrow worked and it was almondshaped and Gorgga (the cave woman next door) has the same type of arrow and it didn’t work. Maybe there is something there that needs to be improved. Or maybe we hunt differently. What ever the reason, it is important for me to know that her arrow did not work, in knowing so we improve our whole society and are able to feed our people faster.
The same goes for the other sciences. If we never find out that others have failed to find some association, the same experiment will be done over and over again. And if nobody publishes the result, then hundreds of scientists will spend years on a dead-end path. Shouldn’t that be worth preventing? Couldn’t the time and the human resources been spent on something more useful? To find out the truth, we should also be willing to accept the inconvenient truth. That sometimes, the hypothesis does not meet reality. It is one of the basic principals of science, to rule out diversions form things that actually function. And in the scientific community, we are obligated to steer future generations in the right path, but that also means keeping them away from the one with dead-ends. Since there is no glory in handing over what not should be done, not many do so. And it is truly a sad realization. It is a sad path we have taken in the scientific community and it is a pattern that has to be broken if we are ever to move forth as our ancestors did. They weren’t afraid to say that one type of arrow worked horribly or that one kind of plant gave them stomachaches, why are we so afraid to say that a medicine just doesn’t work despite previous positive findings, are we afraid of looking foolish? Is it boring to read it? Are the publishers afraid of something, or is it just an ego thing?
Either way, it is time for a serious change, and for the first time in my life. I am gladly giving my hands and voice to the negative news!