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Who’s afraid of the big bad failure?

January 25, 2013

Well, all of us are.  Nothing succeeds like success, and failure sucks. But, doing research, things will fail. Par for the course.

I’m going through my g-mail list of important stuff, which is where I send blogs and articles and other neat stuff when I don’t have time to read them, but I want to, and perhaps to share. And, this one, from Cosmos, I want to share. Title: Failure is an option. (As opposed to those obnoxious competitive sayings, that just make me want to say “they said it couldn’t be done, so I didn’t do it).

In it, they bring up a case of retraction, which wasn’t due to fraud, but because, well, shit happens and sometimes you discover that after publication. But, it took 17 years. Meanwhile, the problematic stuff was cited. There’s a certain fear in retracting, in that it admits failure, or hints at fraud, sloppiness, what have you, perhaps. But, we are out there at the frontiers.  We will fail. We will get the uninterpretable results.

So, perhaps, what we need to do (as so many others, more clever than me, have suggested), is to not focus so much on the results. Retracting a mistaken paper is honorable. Doing good, well thought out research that results in mother nature going “meh – nice try” should probably be out there (with the discussion that nature said nope).

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