This two-day conference will take place on November 13 and 14th, 2020 in Utrecht, the Netherlands. This event is dedicated to reflecting on the role of failure as a creative process in science, and will address three questions:

What is trial and error?

We want to answer this question by showing examples of trial and error in scientific practice. We encourage experimental scientists to report their own trial and error, including instances of null results findings, unexpected results, or outright methodological misadventures. These instances of ‘failure’ must nevertheless have a happy ending, meaning that there must be a constructive aspect to these errors: a lesson to be learned or issues to keep in mind for future research.

Together with these presentations of trial and error processes, we also encourage fundamental investigations, including, for example, the philosophical implications of failure, or the historical developments on how mistakes have been treated throughout the centuries.

Why should we publish trial and error?

Why should we care to reveal trial and error? Are there hidden benefits to report and reflect on failure? Can we even be more radical and ask: are issues like publication bias or replication crisis a symptom of a success-driven science?

We welcome both sceptics and supporters of our idea, who may give a glimpse of the tensions of our society: an obsession with achievement, and a recent trend towards fixation of failure.

We encourage commentators of science (philosophers, sociologists, historians, or the like) to analyze the plea of ‘Open Science’ movements towards increasing transparency in science. We also welcome reflections on the benefit of showcasing science-in-the-making, including the struggles of experimental research.

How should we publish trial and error?

Even if we solve the above questions on what trial and error is and why should we care for it, an issue still remains: how should we communicate trial and error? Are the available routes of publishing adequate to represent ‘failed experiments’? We might begin by looking at the mainstream models of publishing and looking at whether alternative routes (such as those created within Open Science communities) are useful tools in disclosing a more honest and transparent image of science.

We aim to make this conference a space in which to report and reflect on failure in practice and will count with a trans-disciplinary speaking panel, including experimental scientists, historians and philosophers of science, sociologists; but also publishers and members of funding agencies. We want to encourage a discussion between researchers, publishers and funding bodies; who are all key in understanding the current status of success and failure in academic work. 

Confirmed speakers

Prof. Harry Collins

Professor of Social Sciences at Cardiff University, UK .

  • Public Understanding of Science
  • Sociology of gravitational wave physics
  • The Nature of Skills and Expertise

Dr. Nicole Nelson

Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical History and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, USA

  • History of the genetics
  • Laboratory studies and scientific practice
  • Historical study of the reproducibility crisis


Abstract submission: March 8th – May 7th

Registration: Until September 3rd (more information coming soon)

Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.