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Learning from Null Effects: A Bottom-Up Approach

Ala' Alrababa'h | Scott Williamson | Andrea Dillon | Jens Hainmueller | Dominik Hangartner | Michael Hotard | David Laitin | Duncan Lawrence | Jeremy Weinstein
2020

A critical barrier to generating cumulative knowledge in political science and related disciplines is the inability of researchers to observe the results from the full set of research designs that scholars have conceptualized, implemented, and analyzed. For a variety of reasons, studies that produce null findings are especially likely to be unobserved, creating biases in publicly accessible research. While several approaches have been suggested to overcome this problem, none have yet proven adequate. We propose a new model in which scholars post short “null results reports” online that summarize their research designs, findings, and interpretations. We discuss a template for these reports and illustrate their utility with two experimental studies focused on naturalization of immigrants in the United States and attitudes toward Syrian refugees in Jordan. We conclude with a discussion of how to overcome incentive problems and inculcate a discipline-wide norm of publicizing null findings.