One of the tenets of science is that the results be reproducible. One consequence of this maxim is that any paper that is published should have sufficient information that would enable anyone who wishes to do so to replicate the results. But there is no real incentive for people to try and replicate the work of others. It takes a lot of time and effort and one cannot publish a confirmation of someone else’s result unless the original result was so revolutionary that supportive evidence is called for. The cold fusion and the faster-than-light neutrino stories were examples of such high-profile cases.
As a result the only scientists who bother to replicate the work of others are those who either disagree with the result and think that something went awry or seek to build on that work and thus want to make sure they have a solid foundation to work on. But it turns out that even if you get results that contradict previously published results, it is not easy to get them into print because the journals that accepted the original results are often reluctant to publish refutations.
This article describes the frustrations of a researcher who got results that contradicted the existence of precognition, even though the original claim to have found evidence of precognition was pretty sensational and got a lot of publicity in the science media. The journal that published the original paper refused to publish the refutation, as did many other leading journals. As the author says:
Although we are always being told that “replication is the cornerstone of science”, the truth is that the “top” journals are simply not interested in straight replications – especially failed replications. They only want to report findings that are new and positive.
Most scientists are aware of this bias and will rarely bother with straight replications. But straight replication attempts are often exactly what is required, especially when dealing with controversial claims.
This is a serious problem since claims that are not refuted carry the presumption of truth. I am not sure what can be done about this except perhaps the creation of an online journal devoted exclusively to publications that refute earlier work or, in the case of controversial claims that merit them, confirmations.