A group of University of Colorado students is helping researchers develop their own experiments and avoid dead ends and duplication by publishing an online database of summarized results that otherwise would be lost.
Five students created the CU Database of Negative Results for their President’s Leadership Class capstone project. While the project guidelines were very vague, CU senior Dave Sheneman said it was not difficult for the group to decide on a topic.
The University of Colorado Database of Negative Results is online at cunegativeresults.org .
“Of all the research that’s done, about 60 percent of results are negative — but only 10 percent of published results are negative,” Sheneman said. “Many of the negative results are lost, so we want to eliminate the gap in what is done and published.”
Negative results are those that are different from an expected outcome and don’t prove a researcher’s hypothesis, and by collecting them, the CU students hope to help researchers avoid conducting duplicate experiments or going down wrong paths.
The students’ database will represent multiple fields of research at CU. Researchers can search the database through a Google search engine, which can pull up results by author, year, title or even keywords.
The website — cunegativeresults.org — already is functional, but does not currently have any results posted, though the group hopes there will be several summaries by the spring semester.
“The assignment was very open ended, just asking us to solve a problem we were familiar with,” Sheneman said. “Most of us had done lab experiments, so we had that in common and knew we could work with that angle.”
The site is currently available to researchers affiliated with the university. The group is working with graduate advisers to open the site to students, as well.
CU senior Anita Lowe came up with the idea for the project when a researcher she was working with complained that researchers could be duplicating experiments because negative results are so rarely published.
“I had just finished an experiment that produced a negative result, and it got me wondering if someone else might try that same experiment without the knowledge that it had been done and proved negative,” Lowe said.
Lowe works with aging research at CU and said she is excited about the sustainability that the site will provide.
“Hopefully this will decrease the repetition of experiments and serve as a storage site for this knowledge where people can access it even years into the future,” she said.
CU research associate Jim Cysper already is working on material that is expected to publish to the database soon.
As his genetics research continues, Cysper said he’s looking forward to using the database to help direct his new research and experiments.
“The information in the database could direct us down a new path or keep us from going down a dead end,” Cysper said. “It could save a lot of time.”
Sheneman said the group hopes to get as many results posted as possible, whether it takes weeks, months or even years to create a comprehensive database.
The students presented their project in class two weeks ago and said they feel confident that they got a good grade. But despite their grade, Sheneman said the group still feels like the project was a success.
“The groundwork is already done,” Sheneman said. “We’ve done the hard work in developing the foundation for the project and feel it would be a waste of time to abandon it.”
The group has already contacted several sophomore President’s Leadership Class members who have agreed to help with the continued development of the site. Sheneman said he also will continue maintaining the database even after he leaves CU.