Many, if not the majority, of research projects end up as ‘failures’. I use the term failure because the project simply fails to reach the pre-defined goals. Useful knowledge is usually still gained, such as why you could not reach the goal or why the goal is unreachable. Unfortunately, knowledge about what not to do is less publishable and therefore less likely to be shared.
It is a tragedy that this knowledge from failure is not shared with others and added to the compendium of human understanding. Without a method for capturing and disseminating this information, countless researchers in countless labs end up having to reinvent failures many times over. The same mistakes are allowed to happen because there are few if any forums for researchers to learn why their proposl might not work.
A few years ago I stumbled upon the Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine. In this journal biologists and biochemists share the results of their ‘failed’ experiments. After posting a link to this journal on the chemistry subreddit Mitch and I got into a discussion about starting a Journal of Failed Chemistry, an open access, peer reviewed journal to share failed chemistry projects and the too often underappreciated knowledge they produce. We decided to wait until we were more established in our careers before tackling the project because we wanted more credibility to support the journal.
I am excited to share with as many people as I can that someone beat us to it. The All Results Journals: Chem is currently accepting submissions in an effort to “compile and publish articles with undesirable results and their interpretations written up in common scientific format after a peer review process.”
All articles are written in standard journal format and each submission will be sent out to one or more reviewers as chosen by the editors. Every published article is available online free of charge in open access format to support a greater global exchange of knowledge.
While this journal is still in its fledgling stages I hope that everyone recognizes its importance and provides support. Its success rests on the shoulders of those willing to both submit and review the articles. Please take a look at the online submission guidelines to see if you have something fitting for the journal (I would wager that anyone who’s completed a Doctoral thesis has at least one chapter that fits the criteria). Also if you are willing and interested in being a reviewer check out the requirements and fill out an application.
Related side note: I pass on the advice I was once given as a graduate student – while doing an original research proposal, like the one required during most qualifying exam processes, be able to answer the question “If you fail to reach the goals of your proposal, what will you have learned?” The most valuable proposals to the scientific community at large are not just the ones that present a unique way to go after a problem but also the ones that will help humanity better understand the inner workings of the universe.