Should negative research findings be rejected outright?

All results are equally important

All results are equally important

Scientific research is full of ambiguities as well as opportunities. The findings you arrive at depend greatly on the control over experimental conditions. Slightest variations of such conditions can lead to differences in results. The earlier article “Uncertainty of measurements – How to quantify ambiguity of your results” lists out some of the factors that result in variation of observations. Some factors that contribute to uncertainties of measurements in chemical laboratories are listed in the article. The list is in no way exhaustive and in a research laboratory the listing of factors can be even longer.

It is an established fact that research can throw up a lot of unexpected findings and as a researcher you should keep an open mind, free of biases, and report your findings honestly. However, do ensure that you have exercised full control over the experimental conditions and reported your findings alongwith a complete specification of such conditions. It is not proper to discard the observations merely on the basis of logic as you should remember that research is capable of throwing up the unexpected. You never know that your findings may bring about a marked change in the way researches in the same field are conventionally thinking or it may even bring about a revolutionary change in coming time. You should also keep in mind that reporting of negative results will help save their time and effort by the other resources from following a similar approach in their projects.

As a researcher you may feel hesitate on reporting of negative or unexpected results for fear of being admonished by your research guide or apprehension that the finding would get rejected by reputed journals for publication. However, all negative findings should be discussed with your research guide and only after a consensus is reached such findings should be discarded.

Negative results can lead to further insight into the behaviour of matter at atomic or molecular levels under changing experimental conditions. A common example is Beer Lambert’s law which states that the absorbance of light by a light absorbing entity is in direct proportion to its concentration. However, in reality the increase is in linear relationship only upto a particular concentration beyond which deviations are observed from linearity. The reason is that under certain set of conditions through interactions with surroundings solvent or other species the behaviour does not remain linear any longer. Another very good example is that certain materials loose their resistance to current and become super conducting at temperatures nearing absolute zero of temperature. Imagine how much loss there would have been to the scientific community if some researcher had discarded the findings beliving that the results were anomolies and did not deserve due consideration.

In summary if at all you come across some unexpected results or findings verify and re-verify the operational conditions, calibration status of your measuring systems, environmental controls and seek opinions of your research guide before your trash such observations. You never know your observations could prove to be a new stepping stone which could bring about a radical change in the conventional thinking.

About Dr. Deepak Bhanot

Dr Deepak Bhanot is a seasoned professional having nearly 30 years expertise beginning from sales and product support of analytical instruments. After completing his graduation and post graduation from Delhi University and IIT Delhi he went on to Loughborough University of Technology, UK for doctorate research in analytical chemistry. His mission is to develop training programs on analytical techniques and share his experiences with broad spectrum of users ranging from professionals engaged in analytical development and research as well as young enthusiasts fresh from academics who wish to embark upon a career in analytical industry.

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