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Saturday, 4 June 2011

Negative Results



Another week, another conference submission deadline. If I seem busy at the moment, this is why. It's that time of year. Summer in academia: attending one conference whilst preparing a paper to submit in time for the next deadline.

But there's something that's started troubling me, tucked away in the carbon-copy text that always seems to accompany each call for papers:

Negative results should be submitted as short papers.

But why?

Why should the write-up of an experiment be entitled to only half the number of pages, just because it shows that something doesn't work as expected? We're scientists, aren't we? Negative results aren't bad. Indeed, you can often learn more from things that don't work. If something doesn't turn out as the theory predicted, that's probably really important to finding a better theory. It bothers me that big, important conferences are choosing to sideline the issue.

9 comments:

lostinsophistication said...

Good luck with everything!!!

(Also, I agree with you: a negative result is as -- or perhaps even more -- informative as a positive result, and they ought to enjoy greater appreciation!)

Rachel said...

Maybe you should start tucking this Samuel Beckett snippet into ever delegate's pocket:
"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

The story of science..

Kel said...

I don't know how you keep with everything. You are one impressive lady. ( I completely agree with you , by the way.)

Jenny Woolf said...

I think this attitude has strongly influenced academic research for a long time. Yes, of course it's wrong.

I wonder, was it always this way?

Christine said...

Quite right Rachel. Dare you disturb the universe and present something?

Tabor said...

I agree with you... scientists and researchers need to re-define success.

Charlotte said...

Best of luck to you, Rachel. Keeping you in my thoughts that all goes well the next few weeks for you.

And I totally agree--I think exploring why certain experiments haven't worked would make for interesting expose work and would therefore lead to a thought-provoking argument.

Rabbit Hole Report said...

Perhaps you can submit a nice long paper about Post-Its and how they were the happy accident in a failed experiment.

Kim @ Stuff could... said...

Good Luck with your papers!

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