Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the conference, planned for November 2020, has been postponed to summer 2021. This is a tough decision to make but as organisers we feel as though it is the most responsible thing to do given the uncertainty of the moment. The call for contributions has been closed until further notice.

First speakers announced

This two-day conference will take place on November 13 and 14th, 2020 in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The goal of this event is to create an engaging space in which to discuss the different academic domains and several stakeholders of science. We will bring researchers, publishers, and funding agencies, who together will answer what is, why should we care, and how should we publish trial and error in the twenty-first century. 

What is trial and error?

To answer this question, examples of trial and error in scientific practice will be highlighted. We will encourage experimental scientists to report their own trials and errors, including instances of finding null results, unexpected results, or outright methodological issues. Reporting null results works to diminish the ‘file drawer’ problem (i.e., positive publication bias), while disclosing and commenting on technical obstacles leads to a more robust understanding of the methodological and epistemological aspects of research. 

In addition to these presentations on trial and error in practice, we will also encourage the reporting of more fundamental investigations, for example, the philosophical implications of failure, or historical commentary on how mistakes have been treated throughout the centuries. 

Why should we publish trial and error?

This question aims to facilitate a debate about whether or not reporting failure is an advantageous endeavour. Some ancillary questions include: why should we care to reveal trial and error? Are there hidden benefits to reporting and reflecting on failure? We believe that pressing issues, like the apparent positive publication bias or replication crisis, are symptoms of a success-driven scientific enterprise, which adheres to and promotes an unrealistic image of scientific investigations as only producing breakthroughs and big discoveries. Reporting instances of trial and error, we believe, increases transparency of scientific day-to-day realities. A transparent image of scientific practice is needed to foster research integrity. Scientific papers are presented as immutable objects, and this contradicts the constant evolving nature of science. The tendency to report scientific experiments as a closed narrative conflicts with the reality of research, in which open questions remain, reinterpretations occur, and months of experimentation can culminate in unexpected results. We are concerned that the pressure to publish self-contained, positive results, threatens the unbiased, continuous efforts of achieving scientific knowledge.

How should we publish trial and error?

This question aims to situate the above methodological, epistemological, ethical, and historical discussions within a practical context. Even if we solve the above questions, an issue still remains: how should we communicate trial and error? Are the available publication methods adequate to report ‘failed experiments’? We will begin by looking at conventional publishing models and then move to considering whether or not alternative routes (such as those created within Open Science communities) are useful tools for communicating an 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 funders; who are all key in understanding the current status of success and failure in academic work. 


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

Dr. Christophe Bernard

Director of research the Institute of Systems Neuroscience (Inserm) in Marseille, and editor-in-chief of eNeuro (Open Access journal of the Society for Neuroscience)

  • Neuroscience of epilepsy (mechanisms of seizure genesis and propagation)
  • Development of organic electronics to record and control neuronal activity

Tim Kersjes

Research Integrity Adviser at Springer Nature

  • Editorial policy and ethical issues in research and publications

Contributions & Registration

Due to the coronavirus pandemic the event has been postponed to the summer of 2021. Abstract submission and registration is currently closed. Stay updated by following us on social media, and by visiting this page. Further information will be posted in January 2021.