Using blogs for sharing negative results


I’ve now been blogging for a little over three years. I’m no longer a newbie, but clearly am not an old-timer. Nonetheless, I’ve seen the standard topics of the scientific “blogosphere” (for lack of a better word) get cycled through again, and again. These are topics that are often important to our community, dealing with equity, justice, accessibility, and leadership. That said, I feel like blogs can do more, and serve our own academic communities better.

For the most part, blogs are preaching to the converted, aside for the uncommon post that penetrates outside the community. (Moreover, the posts that do break into new audiences usually are not about scientific outreach, but more likely some kind of outrage.) Blogs have specialized audiences. (The bulk of people who read this site work in colleges and universities and are interested in how we do things). The more we pretend that blogs are outreach to non-specialists — the people who wouldn’t normally be reading that particular blog  — the less focus we have on what blogs can do.

Some academic communities have a scene where a lot of people have blogs, and substantial academic issues get handled on those blogs in the form of a conversation. In ecology and its sister disciplines, that kind of scene doesn’t much exist, as Jeremy Fox has pointed out on in Dynamic Ecology on a number of occasions. (I make a point to avoid talking about detailed matters in ecology here on a regular basis, because the intended audience is broader.) We have a number of blogs in ecology, with various levels of activity, but folks generally don’t think of a blogs as a place where you put academic content. If you’ve got something to share with the world, and you’re not putting it in a peer-reviewed paper, then ‘blog’ isn’t something that comes to mind for most people.

The funny thing is, nearly everybody who is doing research has a lot of things that their fellow researchers would benefit from, if they had a blog and they discussed their research. I mean, discussed in a way that is useful for fellow researchers, not as a form of outreach. Some labs are very good about putting their protocols online, and sharing data, and all of that. But what about all those little things that you know that might be of use to others but aren’t quite substantial enough for a paper?

I’m thinking mostly about the ‘publication’ of negative results. That people can’t or don’t publish negative results is a frequent lament. It’s time to own that we don’t prioritize publishing negative results, or that journals aren’t keen on them either. (Aside from journals with ‘negative results’ in the title, obviously)

Imagine if we put our negative results in blogs. That we can tell our colleagues about. The world gets this information but without the rigamarole tied to publishing a peer-reviewed paper.

This means it’s not a line on your CV, but it wouldn’t be anyway.

The activation energy required for this is lower for people who already have blogs associated with their labs, or personal blogs. While I think having an infrequenly-updated blog isn’t a great idea, if the posts are primarily about the science itself, then this isn’t so bad.

Is anybody already publishing negative results on their blog? Any experiences to suggest that it might be useful to others?


8 thoughts on “Using blogs for sharing negative results

  1. I have an irregular series called “Data I’ll never publish”, and I have used unpublished data in more focused posts, which fulfils some of what you’re talking about, Terry, though it’s more for fragments of data that I hope will stimulate others rather than “negative” results per se. Here’s some examples:

  2. I have a whole pile of stuff that I am now pretty certain I will a) never get around to publishing and b) is too slight/fragmentary for a journal, but could be useful to others working or starting out in a field, so like Jeff these will probably end up on my blog.

  3. Dissemination through a blog is definitely better than if that information never saw the light of day from any venue. It could, however, perpetuate the idea that negative findings are the result of uninteresting research questions or sloppy design. Distinguishing those results from truly rigorous work that shows no effect is a perennial problem that can be addressed through peer-review before results are known. This addresses the limitation of the “Journal of Null Results” by assuring that the research questions are relevant to the field and the methods were rigorous and highly powered. It also removes the bias of decision making based upon overly-cleaned up results. Read more here about that format here:

  4. We have an open science notebook where we do report some negative data and problems, such as problems with quantum dots antibody labelling

    Apart from that, platforms such as ScienceOpen ( or F1000 ( or the Self Journal of Science ( provide space to share studies which have led to negative results with the additional benefit of formal (post publication) peer review, e.g.

  5. I think another useful sort of content would be the little technical hints and tips that can save a pile of time or money but that are not fancy enough to go into journals (it was not all that long ago that there were journals dedicated to these nuts and bolts hardware innovations).

  6. Hi Terry,

    This seems to be a recurrent theme in ecology, in the olden days through chats in the bar at meetings, now-a-days through blogs and other social media as well as in the pub.

    [Disclaimer] I’m an Assoc Ed at The Journal of Negative Results – Ecology & Evolutionary Biology ( which has been running >10 years and still struggles to attract a decent volume of submissions.

    That obvious bias given – I’m still going to say that I’d prefer to see negative/null results reported following pre-publication peer-review. That helps filter out a lot of the obvious issues (e.g.,standardising reporting/formats, n << small). We have similarly stringent peer-review at JNR–EEB to other eco-evo journals, though no premium on ‘novelty’.

    I personally thought PLOS-One would steal our business, but I’m not aware of them publishing lots of, or even a few negative results. But it’s hard to keep up with everything they publish!

    So, there are fora for reporting negative results, in a citable, CV-able format, but persuading authors it’s worth their while writing these results up as a paper remains a major challenge.

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