Science has always been heavily reliant on public funding. From this basic premise, the scientific community have an obligation to use these funds in the most efficient and effective ways possible. Indeed, in my experience this is the view most non-scientists have of the scientific community. But it is not the truth.
The reality is that as a researcher you are in the constant shadow of the unpublished. There are many reasons for this, but a lot of them boil down to the modern publishing environment and the competition therein. Given the choice, publishing agencies will invariably choose positive data over the perceived ‘lack of a result’. Of course, this is a fallacy and negative data hold as much inherent value as its positive counterpart.
So we are now in a situation in which the vast majority of the scientific community, relying on published data as their primary reference, has little idea what negative data exists. This begs the question: how big is this knowledge gap? If negative data only accounts for 5% of the total generated output, perhaps the situation isn’t so bad. The reality is, of course, that the vast majority of research, no matter how high the quality, produces negative results. As such, this represents a gaping hole in the knowledge base accessible to scientists.
The current publishing model severely impairs our ability to do our jobs effectively and is a huge drain on finite resources
There are two key outcomes of this gap in knowledge. Firstly, unpublished experiments are destined to be repeated again and again by different labs with no added value whatsoever. Secondly, that experimental design is inherently impaired by the lack of important information. These two realities place science in a very uncomfortable position when answering to the general public. We have a responsibility to be, as individuals and as a community, as efficient and effective at what we do as possible. The current publishing model severely impairs our ability to do our jobs effectively and is a huge drain on finite resources. The sooner things change the better.