Reporting Adverse Results in Publications

Here’s a question: to what extent should authors describe the limitations of their results in publications?

I’m not talking about failed experiments and negative results or null-hypotheses.

For example, say a compound is synthesized, but is highly unstable in air, causing it to decompose rapidly.  Should that be noted?  Or maybe someone makes a new polymer that undergoes depolymerization after a couple days on the bench.  Should the researchers describe that in their publication?

Of course, it’s contextual.  Does the negative observation directly impact potential applications of the material?  If yes, then one would think it imperative accurately describe the limitations of research, especially if they are known at the time of publication.  It seems irresponsible to intentionally leave out these details.  And it is exceedingly frustrating as a scientist to discover these sort of details independently, when replicating others’ results.

Obviously, it hurts your chances of getting into a high impact journal if your results are muddled by adverse circumstances at the back-end.  And not every single negative result is noteworthy.  Library synthesis papers don’t describe every single failed substrate, but they often note something along the lines of “[class of compound] did not react to produce the desired product.”

I don’t have a perfect answer to this question.  Thoughts are welcome by comment or email.


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