I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Null results are noteworthy. A tested hypothesis that generates negative results is as important as one producing positive results. And yet null outcomes practically never hit the bigtime news, and very infrequently are included in rational discussions. It’s a shame. A problem.
I wish that for every 10 “we found a link between x and y” television broadcasts and print and Internet articles, there was at minimum one report of “we didn’t find a link between x and y.” In the least it would vastly improve the public understanding of science.
Consider this piece of research from the University of Illinois:
After the campus shootings at Virginia Tech University in 2007 and Northern Illinois University in 2008, hundreds of affected students turned to social media websites to share their grief and search for solace. A new study of these students found that their online activities neither helped nor harmed their long-term psychological health. [emphasis added]
Neither = no effect, negative results, a null finding. And what a breathe of fresh content it is for a critical thinker to encounter these once in awhile. Sadly, I encountered it in the relative backwaters of news reporting: a pure science website.
This just in: scientists spend hours, days and years seeking and seeking without finding anything. Whole careers amount to “I searched but didn’t find.” It’s what happens, a reality of the practice of doing science. Perhaps more importantly — for the sake of science education — experimenters conduct test after test, with many generating clearly negative results or results that fail to rise to the level of significance. Additionally, many initially positive result later fail to be replicated. It’s part of science. But a part that remains largely hidden. Unfortunately.