Advantages of Reporting, Publishing, and Reading "Negative" Studies

S. Malhotra, N. Shafiq, P. Pandhi


October 29, 2004

In This Article


This article was conceived when a student came to me and asked, "Can I present a negative study in my Journal Club?" This generally sums up the attitude of some of us toward negative studies: skepticism. This is not a new practice; negative trials are known to attract less attention from different parties, including authors, editors, sponsors, and students, pursuing their graduate or postgraduate courses. There is enough evidence to show that not only are negative studies less likely to be published (publication bias),[1,2,3,4] they are also likely to be published with greater delay[5,6,7] as compared with studies showing positive results. For these and many other reasons (eg, they "devaluate" the quality of literature), negative trials have been labeled as "dull" and "meaningless.[8]"

Because several arguments can be found in favor of "negative results," I will try to prove in this article that dissemination of the data stemming from negative trials is at least as important, if not in some cases more important, as the release of positive trial data.

Although some of these advantages may appear obvious, others are subtler. Although this article is written mainly from the perspective of investigators and readers of scientific literature, many others (such as students and patients) may benefit from reading about the advantages of negative studies. Most of the discussion is limited to "negative" clinical trials of new drugs. However, there is no reason to believe that other types of negative clinical research or even negative animal studies are less important.


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