Filling in the Scientific Record: The Importance of Negative and Null Results



PLOS strives to publish scientific research with transparency, openness, and integrity. Whether that means giving authors the choice to preregister their study, publish peer review comments, or diversifying publishing outputs; we’re here to support researchers as they work to uncover and communicate discoveries that advance scientific progress. Negative and null results are an important part of this process. 

This is something we agree on across our journal portfolio — the most recent updates from PLOS Biology being one example– and it’s something we care about especially on PLOS ONE. Our journal’s mission is to provide researchers with a quality, peer-reviewed and Open Access venue for all rigorously conducted research, regardless of novelty or impact. Our role in the publishing ecosystem is to provide a complete, transparent view of scientific literature to enable discovery. While negative and null results can often be overlooked — by authors and publishers alike — their publication is equally as important as positive outcomes and can help fill in critical gaps in the scientific record. 


We encourage researchers to share their negative and null results.


To provide checks and balances for emerging research 

Positive results are often viewed as more impactful. From authors, editors, and publishers alike, there is a tendency to favor the publication of positive results over negative ones and, yes, there is evidence to suggest that positive results are more frequently cited by other researchers. 

Negative results, however, are crucial to providing a system of checks and balances against similar positive findings. Studies have attempted to determine to what extent the lack of negative results in scientific literature has inflated the efficacy of certain treatments or allowed false positives to remain unchecked. 

The effect is particularly dramatic in meta-analyses which are typically undertaken with the assumption that the sample of retrieved studies is representative of all conducted studies:


However, it is clear that a positive bias is introduced when studies with negative results remain unreported, thereby jeopardizing the validity of meta-analysis (25, 26). This is potentially harmful as the false positive outcome of meta-analysis misinforms researchers, doctors, policymakers and greater scientific community, specifically when the wrong conclusions are drawn on the benefit of the treatment.”

— Mlinari?, et al (2017). Dealing with publication bias: why you should really publish your negative results. Biochem Med (Zagreb) 27(3): 030201


As important as it is to report on studies that show a positive effect, it is equally vital to document instances where the same processes were not effective. We should be actively reporting, evaluating, and sharing negative and null results with the same emphasis we give to positive outcomes.


To reduce time and resources needed for researchers to continue investigation

Regardless of the outcomes, new research requires time and financial resources to complete. At the end of the process, something is learned — even if the answer is unexpected or less clear than you had hoped for. Nevertheless, these efforts can provide valuable insights to other research groups.

If you’re seeking the answer to a particular scientific question, chances are that another research group is looking for that answer as well: either as a main focus or to provide additional background for a different study. Independent verification of the results through replication studies are also an important piece of solidifying the foundation of future research. This also can only happen when researchers have a complete record of previous results to work from. 

By making more findings available, we can help increase efficiencies and advance scientific discovery faster. 


To fill in the scientific record and increase reproducibility

It’s difficult to draw reliable conclusions from a set of data that we know is incomplete. This lack of information affects the entire scientific ecosystem. Readers are often unaware that negative results for a particular study may even exist, and it may even be more difficult for researchers to replicate studies where pieces of the data have been left out of the published record.

Some researchers opt to obtain specific null and negative results from outside the published literature, from non peer-reviewed depositories, or by requesting data directly from the authors. The inclusions of this “grey literature” can improve accuracy, but the additional time and effort that goes into obtaining and verifying this information would be prohibitive for many to include.

This is where publishers can play a pivotal role in ensuring that authors not only feel welcome to submit and publish negative results, but to make sure those efforts are properly recognized and credited. Published, peer-reviewed results allow for a more complete analysis of all available data and increased trust in the scientific record.  


We know it’s difficult to get into the lab right now and many researchers are having to rethink the way that they work or focus on other projects. We encourage anyone with previously unpublished negative and null results to submit their work to PLOS ONE and help fill in the gaps of the scientific record, or consider doing so in the future. 



The post Filling in the Scientific Record: The Importance of Negative and Null Results appeared first on EveryONE.

Meet the PLOS ONE Cancer and Oncology Authors


Today is World Cancer Day — a day for raising the voices of cancer survivors, loved ones, and the people who are working endlessly to find solutions. This year’s theme is “I am and I will:” a recognition of the power each individual has to make an impact.

Each year, PLOS ONE publishes more than 1000 new research articles in cancer and oncology from authors who have dedicated their careers to studying this disease. In celebration of this years’ theme, we’re sharing their stories which inspired the science we use to understand and fight this disease. 


Meet the researchers…

“My research group is mainly focused on the study of lung and pancreatic cancers, which are associated with high morbidity and mortality rates, worldwide. We use high throughput methods to identify new biomarkers and regulatory pathways and functional assays to improve our understanding of disease biology. 

Our ultimate goal is to improve patient survival, through better diagnosis, prognosis and treatment.”

— Patricia Pintor dos Reis, Faculty of Medicine, São Paulo State University – UNESP Botucatu, SP, BRAZIL.

MicroRNA modulated networks of adaptive and innate immune response in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Tainara F. Felix, Rainer M. Lopez Lapa, Márcio de Carvalho, Natália Bertoni, Tomas Tokar, Rogério A. Oliveira, et al


“Bioinformatics is my tool and cancer research is my subject. My dad and many other people died of cancer and I want to uncover what causes cancer. And I love math and computers, which attracted me to become a bioinformatician. Now I am working for NCI initiative Ras program at Frederick National Lab for Cancer Research, which tries to tackle the most critical and ancient gene in cancer biology: Ras genes.

My last paper on PLOS ONE is about common pitfalls often seen in the survival analysis in the field. We wish to first alert researchers about the pitfalls when they perform survival analysis and to provided a novel method that shall help avoid the pitfalls.

The curiosity in biology and the desire to make life better drives my career in science.”


— Ming Yi, NCI RAS Initiative, Cancer Research Technology Program, Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, Frederick, MD, United States of America

GradientScanSurv—An exhaustive association test method for gene expression data with censored survival outcome. Ming Yi, Ruoqing Zhu, Robert M. Stephens



“The goal of my research is to develop an agent that promotes apoptosis in cancer cells but not in normal cells. To accomplish this goal, I explored different protein targets and pathways that included but are not limited to matrix type-I metalloprotease I (MT1-MMP), tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL), and oxidative stress. 

I believe that the results and proposed future strategies will help to design potent and safe cancer treatments.

— Dmitri Rozanov, Department of Molecular and Medical Genetics, Knight Cancer Institute, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Oregon, United States of America

Targeting mitochondria in cancer therapy could provide a basis for the selective anti-cancer activity. Dmitri Rozanov, Anton Cheltsov, Aaron Nilsen, Christopher Boniface, Isaac Forquer, et al



“I focus on H&N/Skull base cancers and mechanisms of treatment resistance within HPV positive and negative cancers.  Understanding mechanism of treatment resistance will enable us to target new pathways for improving patient outcomes.   

It is a privilege to work with folks and help the individual patient, but just as important is work on research that can possibly help the many.”

— Dukagjin Blakaj, The James Cancer Center, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, United States of America

Association of an intact E2 gene with higher HPV viral load, higher viral oncogene expression, and improved clinical outcome in HPV16 positive head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Nicole V. Anayannis, Nicolas F. Schlecht, Miriam Ben-Dayan, Richard V. Smith, Thomas J. Belbin, et al



“My particular area of research is the staging of colon cancer, it is important because colon cancer is a top 3 killer (of all cancer types) and we need new treatment strategies. However without accurate staging (i.e. determining how advanced the tumor is), it is nearly impossible to develop these new strategies. 

My goal is to increase this accuracy, or at least shed light on how accurate our current staging is.”

— Elias Nerad, The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam The Netherlands.

The Apparent Diffusion Coefficient (ADC) is a useful biomarker in predicting metastatic colon cancer using the ADC-value of the primary tumor. Elias Nerad, Andrea Delli Pizzi, Doenja M. J. Lambregts, Monique Maas, Sharan Wadhwani, et al



“I have always wanted to understand the incredible organization of brain functions and how to cure patients with brain lesions. My research field focuses on brain anatomy, brain functions, neuroimaging and how all these aspects together can improve the treatment of patients with cerebral tumors. My work tried to change the standard topographical classification of brain tumors to a model including more detailed information regarding the tumor infiltration along the white matter fibers.

This model perfectly fits the open access principle because it is not based on expensive technology, rather on a basic idea merging anatomy neuroimaging and oncology. I believe that anyone in the world can reproduce this classification method with standard MRI pictures contributing to a more extensive and shared knowledge in this field.

I want to fully understand the interaction between brain structures and brain tumors to better cure my patients.”

— Francesco Latini, Department of Neuroscience, Neurosurgery, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

A novel radiological classification system for cerebral gliomas: The Brain-Grid. Francesco Latini, Markus Fahlström, Shala G. Berntsson, Elna-Marie Larsson, Anja Smits, Mats Ryttlefors


Read More Cancer Research on PLOS ONE

Find out more about the causes of cancer and interventions to prevent and manage the disease in the PLOS Cancer Research Special Collection.

PLOS ONE will also be launching a Call for Papers for Cancer Metastasis research and invites submissions that report on the biochemical and cell biological basis of metastasis, including but not limited to cell adhesion, cell migration, cytoskeletal dynamics, cell polarity, tumour heterogeneity, tumour dormancy and the tumour microenvironment.


The post Meet the PLOS ONE Cancer and Oncology Authors appeared first on EveryONE.