I believe that the lack of negative data reporting has a detrimental effect on science, particularly biological sciences. As biological systems are inherently random, and subject to evolutionary selection, we find that the simplest and most logical solution isn’t always the one that is in place. Evolution of a system is able to ‘stop’ as soon as a problem is solved or ‘biological function’ achieved, and thus we have many redundancies, and oddly functioning processes that remain, simply due to the fact that they work. Systems only become more sophisticated, or efficient through further mutation and evolutionary selection where the newer solution leads to a survival advantage.

Occam’s razor dictates that “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected”. Simply put, the hypothesis that is most easily explained, or otherwise the least complex should more often than not be the correct one. With this in mind, let’s examine how many research projects unfold in reality.

A scientist develops a hypothesis based on examination of current literature, in combination with their expertise and perhaps some initial findings. For simplicities sake, we shall imagine that Protein X is causing a depletion of Protein Z. Through our literature research we find that both X and Z have known involvements with Protein Y. At this point we become excited in the possibility, and the beautiful simplicity of a pathway where X is affecting Z via Protein Y.

We must establish a platform for reporting partial findings, negative or not, to allow a collaborative push toward furthering scientific research.

We design experiments, buy tools and consumables in order to research this, and hopefully publish these exciting findings. Often, the case will be that it is not protein Y at all, and we are unable to establish what factor may be linking X to Z. We may lack the expertise, tools or some key data and insight that has remained unpublished elsewhere. The disheartening fact here is that we have no idea how many times this has been attempted previously, and we have no platform to communicate to the wider scientific community that this ‘logical’ pathway doesn’t seem to be the correct one. This means that another lab elsewhere may spend many months on a near identical attempt, using precious charity funding, and effort to no avail. If a laboratory cannot push further beyond their initial negative findings, this logical step and gain of knowledge is lost to the ether. The next group or groups will start from scratch with any insight gained, even partial remaining un-communicated.

We must establish a platform for reporting partial findings, negative or not, to allow a collaborative push toward furthering scientific research. It is disheartening to imagine how much insight and how many partial links remain unknown beyond the realm of a single lab, that may collectively yield us extraordinary scientific knowledge and breakthroughs.


How does the lack of negative data reporting affect science?
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