Stop binning negative results, researchers told

Code of conduct frames non-publication of unexpected results as an issue of research integrity

March 29, 2017
Waste paper bin
Source: iStock

A new Europe-wide code of research conduct has ordered academics and journals to treat negative experimental results as being equally worthy of publication as positive ones.

There have been long-standing concerns that, when scientists fail to find evidence for an effect they expected or wanted, publishing the results is seen as uninteresting or more difficult, particularly in journals seen as prestigious.

By binning experimental results because they are negative, researchers fail to alert their colleagues to false leads, wasting lab time, and experiments that challenge well-known positive results go unpublished, critics have argued.

The new European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity frames the bias against negative results as an issue of research conduct, stipulating that “authors and publishers [must] consider negative results to be as valid as positive findings for publication and dissemination”.

It has been drawn up by All European Academies (Allea), a network of academic organisations including the British Academy, Germany's Leopoldina and the French Académie des Sciences.

The new code will apply to researchers using grants from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, but it is hoped that it can also be adopted as a model by other organisations.

It maintains many of the stipulations made by a previous version, created in 2011, although it has been slimmed down. But this earlier code does not mention the issue of negative results.

The new code also puts more emphasis on research organisations themselves to prevent and detect misconduct; for example, universities should reward “open and reproducible practices” when it comes to hiring and promoting researchers, it says.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Reader's comments (1)

It is good to see greater encouragement and support of researchers in communicating negative results. A number of journals, including the BMC series, are open to publishing negative results but my own conversations with researchers have indicated that there is not always enough encouragement to submit such papers, or they can feel under pressure to focus on getting something 'positive' published. We discussed the importance of negative results in a recent editorial at BMC Research Notes https://bmcresnotes.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13104-017-2418-y Conflict of interest statement: I am Publisher for the BMC series journals

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

A group of flamingos and a Marabou stork

A right-wing philosopher in Texas tells John Gill how a minority of students can shut down debates and intimidate lecturers – and why he backs Trump

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands