About Us

We are members of the Andrew Gonzalez lab , in the Biology Department at McGill University.
Montréal, Québec, Canada

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Journal of non-significant results

Following the recent controversy surrounding publishing policies at PNAS, I got into a discussion with members of the Abouheif lab about the many quirks of scientific publishing, and some of the problems they cause for science in general, in particular:
  • Loss of confidence in scientific integrity
  • Publication biases
I'll focus on the second issue, which is perhaps a bit more subtle and more relevant to all scientists without getting too far into the sociology of science.Link
Publication bias is a concern for anyone who's ever written a review paper, conducted a meta-analysis, or interested in complex problems that require multiple experiments to tease apart interactive effects. In a nutshell, the reality is that journals aren't interested in publishing studies about non-significant results. If your study or experiment found no significant difference between treatments of interest, that's less likely to get attention (and thus improve the journal's impact factor), than statistically significant results. You can see how this can skew our perceptions of phenomena, if the only observations we are exposed to are the "interesting" ones.
Given how much we know about publication bias and the problems it causes, it has occured to Zoë and myself that what is really needed is a forum to publish all these non-significant results that no 'respectable' journal would sully their pages with. Given how easy it is to find even 'obscure' results via article databases, impact and significance may be more relevant at the scale of an individual article, rather than an entire journal (" the times, they are a-changin' ").

So, Zoë and I want to start 'the journal of non-significant results' to publish and provide access to all those results of experiments, studies, and methods that just didn't work out, or at least gave statistically non-significant, but perhaps scientifically interesting, results. Unless PLoS beats us to it (which would probably work better, actually).
Think about it for a moment:
How many grad students and research assistants have tried the same doomed method, without knowing that several people have already tried it before? How much better would results of meta-analyses become now that all the non-significant results could be included?
This is not intended to be entirely tongue-in-cheek (unlike the 'journal of irreproducible results' - that's totally different). Although it sounds cheeky, may not ever achieve the impact factor of Nature or even Ecology Letters, it would still provide a valuable and novel function in scientific publishing, with no shortage of suitable material. I think it's time to make science a little less sexy and a whole lot more practical and accurate.
In fact, this idea is not without precedent: there is already a Journal of Non-Significan Results in Education. Once again, education scientists are ahead of the curve (though apparently lagging in follow-through as the journal has yet to post it's first issue).

We also thought of the first spin-off sister journal: 'the journal of insignificant results' for results that are statistically significant, but biologically uninteresting.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Scientific revival tent

September, September, September. No month signals scholastic pursuits quite as much as the month that typically sees students of all ages returning to classes. Granted, there is really no such thing as summer vacation in biodiversity research, but September does generally mean an end to conference season, an end to field season, and the revival of campus life.

Nowhere is this revival more evident than the Gonzalez lab. After long months of separation, all of the lab members again find themselves under the same roof, and with no lack of things to do. Samples have to be processed and diagrams have to be drawn, but there are also social aspects to the return of lab-mates. Some of the lab-bonding highlights for the Gonzalez lab this fall include the following:

Lab-logo contest:

Lab members should endeavour to make a logo for the Gonzalez lab! Deadline Oct. 1, with a potential prize for the winning submission!

Biodiversity film contest:

This fall the auteurs of the Gonzalez lab have a hefty challenge on their plates, with an award for the best short made in the lab on biodiversity. Submission deadline is December 1.

Everybody put on your creative-science hats and have at it!