Monday, January 8

Dead ends in Science

In the latest edition of the Institute of Physics' Physics World magazine, Dr D Jason Palmer lightheartedly suggests a new journal entitled Journal of Close But No Cigar to detail all of the rational, scientific, but ultimately pointless dead ends in science - "putting up roadblocks at the end of dead end streets".

This isn't a new idea, though - indeed, it's a fairly obvious one when you think about it, and people (springing to mind are the editors in Nature back in 2003 - I think and of course the publishers of the Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine) have lamented the lack of publishing the results of failed experiments in the field of medicine, but I haven't heard that much of a suggestion for it in the field of Physics. I suppose this is because in medicine, you're dealing with complicated organs and organisms that can react in completely unexpected ways, thus throwing out statistical anomolies that suggest your theory is right until it is discovered that nobody else can replicate them at all sometime after the original paper is published, while in Physics things tend just not to work so you give up and try something that will, so nothing gets published. The first can confuse science (and indeed the public, as both Nature and Guardian journalist Ben Goldacre have lamented), the latter just wastes scientists time.

I've done the same - most failed experiments I've just ignored, or given at best a brief mention in a conference presentation (and then only because the failure was in the growth of the samples, and I was characterising them, and they failed in an interesting way), but I haven't made any attempt at all to submit these results to a "proper" journal.

So yes, Dr Palmer, Your ideas intrigue me and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter journal

1 comment:

Jason said...

thanks for the mention. i actually had a call from a Scottish newspaper journalist asking if anyone had expressed interest in the idea. so far, no startup funds, but i hold out hope.

the aforementioned Dr. Palmer