Every research paper tells a story, but the pressure to provide ‘clean’ narratives is harmful for the scientific endeavour.
Research manuscripts provide an account of how their authors addressed a research question or questions, the means they used to do so, what they found and how the work (dis) confirms existing hypotheses or generates new ones. The current research culture is characterized by significant pressure to present research projects as conclusive narratives that leave no room for ambiguity or for conflicting or inconclusive results.
We have seen this in grant applications where, in several instances, the applicants almost deliberately ignored work of others that contradicted their hypotheses or findings rather than to place their own work in context.
Prioritizing conclusive over transparent research narratives incentivizes a host of questionable research practices: hypothesizing after the results are known, selectively reporting only those outcomes that confirm the original predictions or excluding from the research report studies that provide contradictory or messy results. Each of these practices damages credibility and presents a distorted picture of the research that prevents cumulative knowledge.