A negative result that got away

Lots of times, you never hear about negative results from scientific research.  If condition A is found to be a great predictor of outcome B, then you will read about it.  If it turns out that the causation isn't likely, it never sees the light of day.  Unfortunately, this just means a research group a few years later will chase down the same unlikely lead, and end up disappointed (again).  It would be nice if scientific journals would publish more negative results, especially those that peer researchers consider likely candidates.  But that's not how it is.

Oxford professor Peter Millican has developed a machine intelligence algorithm for comparing the writing styles of different texts. A few years ago, one such program was used to find the author of "Primary Colors" even though the book was published anonymously.  Millican was contacted by a right-wing group who hoped to show that Obama's first book was ghostwritten by (wait for it) William Ayers.

Millican took a preliminary look and found the charges "very implausible". A deal was agreed for more detailed research but when Millican said the results had to be made public, even if no link to Ayers was proved, interest waned.

That's a shame. I wish the Republicans had gone for it anyway. Not for the politics ... my interests are for the science community.  The results would have been reported about in the papers, and the resulting notoriety may have prompted some academic journal to run it.

A published, high-profile negative result would have been a good thing, indeed.

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