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  1. 1
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    Ben Harris-Roxas

    A factor that I think contributes to this is the peer review process. Journals are often more willing to publish null or negative findings than authors might imagine. But it’s not just authors who get discouraged – reviewers often indicate dissatisfaction with null findings.

    In a sense you can understand why. They’ve given up their time to review a paper and it lacks the “so what?” factor. Even a negative finding provides a partial “so what?”, so potentially this may be more of a problem for studies with no significant findings. In my limited experience of guest editing, reviewers’ approaches varies widely. Some limit their role to reviewing whether the approach was sound and the conclusions justified by the data, others take task with the nature of the arguments presented, others examine the legitimacy of the overall approach or issue being studied, others interest themselves in defending their turf. In light of this null or negative findings can have a rough time getting published.

    And you can understand why editors go along with this. They’ve had to search and beg for reviewers and they often don’t have the time to appraise the articles in much detail themselves. They rely heavily on reviewers to determine if any article should be accepted, revised or rejected. So even if they’re willing to publish null findings they might not receive reviews that are helpful enough say “this is a reasonably sound study but its findings aren’t exciting”. The problems with a paper may be presented to them as more fundamental.

    This probably isn’t the main reason for the “file drawer problem”. It’s just one of a number of factors that combine to make it daunting for people to publish their less exciting research findings.

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  2. 2
    Croakey

    Croakey

    Ben – maybe there’s scope for the Journal of Null Findings? Sounds a bit Pythonesque praps..

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  3. 3
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    Fiona

    Or there needs to be more places to publish outside of the journals, like in mathematics, where there is… oh something. where they all publish even if not in journals. So the findings are still out there, even if not picked up by the majors, and able to be share and then worked from.

    Where’s my mathematician partner when I need him?

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  4. 4
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    Sun

    @Croakey – there are actually several journals of non-significant findings. There’s the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis (http://www.jasnh.com/) in psychology, the Journal of Negative Results in Education (http://www.jnre.org/) and perhaps most pertinent to health, Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine (http://www.jnrbm.com/). The last of these even has an “impact factor”.

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  5. 5
    Croakey

    Croakey

    Fantastic – thanks for this. Many a true word said in jest..

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