Utne Blogs > Science and Technology

Publish Mistakes or Perish

 by Julie Hanus

Tags: Science and Technology, scientific culture, inconclusive results, mistakes, failure, publishing, journals, David Lehrer, Journal of Spurious Correlations, Foreign Policy,

A wise person finds things to learn in his or her mistakes, but when it comes to research published in journals and magazines, successful studies understandably get more play. The Journal of Spurious Correlations seeks to amend this missed opportunity, specifically in the realm of the social sciences. Writing in Foreign Policy, journal cofounder David Lehrer explains:

Editors and readers don’t dwell on—and may never see—findings that are inconclusive, fail to confirm the researcher’s hypothesis, or can’t be easily explained by existing theories. These so-called “negative results” get buried because it’s simply bad marketing to publish wrong answers. But this is a shame, because we could learn a lot from seeing all the evidence.

The data buried in unsuccessful studies can challenge conventional wisdom. Lehrer points to one that “failed” to correlate women’s presence in government with lower levels of corruption—thereby calling into question the widely held belief that women make less crooked leaders than men. Such a negative result would have a hard time finding a home in a conventional journal.

“Publishing rigorous, informative results that seem unsellable will, we hope, give them the prestige and the audience they deserve,” Lehrer explains. “It will help update a scientific culture that prefers the simple and conclusive to the complex and open-ended, and often misses out on valuable information as a result.”

Source: Journal of Spurious Correlations, Foreign Policy