Share your negative results!

It is a busy time. Maybe you are exhausted from zoom-partying all night. Or maybe you have kids. Maybe you are a theorist and you did not notice anything strange. Or perhaps your lab is shut down, like mine is, and you are trying to stay productive.

So try this: think if you have results in your notebooks that you would normally not publish. Not because they are low quality or incomplete – though you may want to start looking at those if the shutdown stretches for months and you get hungry.

I am talking about negative results. In physics, we are wired to only share the positive, the breakthroughs! We get a mental Pavlov dog zap when we think about results that are anything but the rosiest of achievements. In other words, we think that physics is an Instagram account.

In fact, negative results advance physics. They are very important. They save people time, they complete our understanding, they help us find the correct path forward. This is obvious, right? So it should not be scary to share them, and it should not be considered a waste of time. Do it now when your lab is closed, but also do it when it reopens.

It can be a paper where you present results opposite to another paper, like we just did or like these people did a few years ago. It can provide an alternative explanation for an interesting result. It can be a broad negative result that is aimed at opening a discussion within a field of study. And it can be in a top journal, like this Science paper from Penn State. There are many examples: a paper that shows how researchers themselves overlooked something. A paper that digs at the foundations of a topic with a long distinguished history. They all make physics better!

Share your negative results. You already put effort in doing those experiments or those calculations. You thought about it and discussed them with your colleagues. Others also deserve to know. And you will get credit for this. They do get noticed. The next generation will learn from your findings, and they will do better science than we could do.