I have always enjoyed reading Stephan Timmermans’s research, and his new piece in STHV is no exception.
The abstract, which is below, is not only a good reversal on an old idea, but also solid prose — worth the read.
Sociologists of science have argued that due to the institutional reward system negative research results, such as failed experiments, may harm scientific careers. We know little, however, of how scientists themselves make sense of negative research findings. Drawing from the sociology of work, the author discusses how researchers involved in a double-blind, placebo, controlled randomized clinical trial for methamphetamine dependency informally and formally interpret the emerging research results. Because the drug tested in the trial was not an effective treatment, the staff considered the trial a failure. In spite of the disappointing results, the staff involved in the daily work with research subjects still reframed the trial as meaningful because they were able to treat people for their drug dependency. The authors of the major publication also framed the results as worthwhile by linking their study to a previously published study in a post hoc analysis. The author concludes that negative research findings offer a collective opportunity to define what scientific work is about and that the effects of failed experiments depend on individual biography and institutional context.