Can Negative Results Be Significant?

Any scientific research involves testing a hypothesis through an experiment. If the results of the experiment support the hypothesis, it is considered positive and worthy of publication. However, if the results of the experiment contradict the expectations of the researchers, it means that the hypothesis was wrong. These findings are called negative results and most journals do not publish papers whose results are negative. But they should publish such studies since negative results can be just as significant as positive ones. Read this article to find out why they are important.

Negative Results Can Provide Positive Data

The Michelson–Morey experiment is the classic example of a research with negative results which were scientifically significant. The researchers measured the speed of light in different inertial frames, in the same and opposite direction of the Earth’s orbit. They wanted to find faster and slower speeds according to the prevailing Ether Wind theory of light propagation. But they discovered that the speed of light was the same in all directions. This negative result shocked the physics society, but finally led to the special theory of relativity. The contribution of this “negative result” was no less than that of a “positive result.”

There are many other examples of research projects with significant negative results. For instance, years ago it was assumed that cholesterol led to heart attack and clogged arteries. For this reason, the doctors advised their patients to eat fewer eggs. Some people stopped eating eggs altogether and replaced them with egg substitutes. But finally, the findings of long-term studies revealed that there was no relationship between egg consumption and heart disease. This negative result was very important for those who cared about nutrition or health. The opposite kind of thing happened with dietary fiber. It was assumed that the consumption of high amounts of dietary fiber can prevent colon cancer. People used them abundantly until it was found that high fiber diets were not able to lower cancer rates.

Publication of Negative Results Avoids the Waste of Effort

Another significance of negative results is that their publication can prevent other researchers from making a similar mistake. Also, it saves time and effort. For example, imagine that a researcher is working on a project and some months after, a paper is published that reports the failure of the same project. This helps the researcher to stop working on her research project and not waste any more time and effort on it. So, negative results can help researchers avoid repeating a failed procedure once again.

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