Sunday, July 24, 2016

Michelson-Morley Prize for Failed Science

Modern scientific research is incomplete and biased because successful experiments are disproportionately rewarded in the publication and grant funding process.

This results in the so-called "file drawer problem," where journals are stuffed with positive experimental results, while the equally important negative or non-confirmatory results are relegated to archives and file drawers in a dark corner.

Robust scientific experimentation requires equal access to both positive and negative results to prevent costly reinvention of the wheel and optimize collective, forward progress.

To promote the publication of negative experimental results, I propose the Michelson-Morley Prize for Non-Confirmatory Science. This series of awards will provide necessary prestige and incentive for those whose valuable negative contributions can and should be leveraged by the scientific community. The awards would be accompanied by a corresponding professional journal.

Regarding the namesake: The Michelson-Morley Experiment is perhaps the most well-known failed experiment. In the 1880s, Albert Michelson and Edward Morley theorized that the entire universe was floating in a medium called the "luminiferous aether" that allowed light waves to propagate. They constructed an impressive device to measure lightwave interference patterns that would be detected over long distances if "drag" occurred while light drifted through this ether.  The experiment showed there was no interferance, no drag, and no such medium...which was a head-scratcher for them at the time, but showed that light was singularly unique and paved the way for a host of important future discoveries in physics and relativity.

Note that similar forces and incentives have aligned that discourage another important and unsung aspect of science: reproducibility.  The lack of experimental reproductions (in other words checking each other's work) is being addressed by Brian Nosek's "Reproducibility Project."

CATEGORY: Science, Research, Culture and Social Change
IDEATION: July 11, 2016

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