A failed experiment is not the end of nurturing an idea, but is the beginning of a new journey to think beyond the existing notions.
Ask any kindergarten child why things fall on the ground and just not fly away, he/she will enthusiastically answer, “the earth pulls it”. The concept has become so deep rooted in our minds that seldom do we think about the actual force or its impact in our day-to-day lives. But in 1600s, when English Mathematician Sir Isaac Newton hypothesized about a force that every object applies on each other for the first time, it mystified everybody. He postulated that this force applied by earth is so massive because of the humungous mass of earth which made the fall of any object to ground faster each split of a second. We know this as acceleration due to gravity now even off the top of our heads. But for Newton, the conventional mathematics of Algebra and Geometry of Euclid, Archimedes and Pythagoras continually failed to prove his hypothesis. Even after years of contemplating his idea, Newton met with harsh criticism from the contemporary scientific fraternity for lack of evidence for his work. At this juncture, when any researcher could succumb and relent, he sat down to analyze why the Mathematics known to him that could define anything static with equations couldn’t get him evidence to support his strong hypothesis. Unprepared to reconcile, the genius in him developed the concepts of a new form of mathematics from abstract, the Calculus which could define change with equations. With differential and integral calculus, he beautifully explained his theories of gravitation and motion in his work Principia Mathematica. One cannot dismiss his thoughts and findings as momentary ramblings for the initial lack of evidential support as his theories hold true even after four hundred years and even paved way to the blockbuster Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein in later years.
It is not unusual for researchers to ponder over a particular problem in such depth and get fixated on an outcome while designing and performing experiments. So when the observations and experimental results do not turn out the way anticipated the degree of dejection and dismay is tremendous. The question here is, is it always the positive evidence that matters? Following the popular argument that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, it is equally valid to state that absence of evidence opens an array of new possibilities and scope for alternative hypotheses. Statistically, no alternative hypothesis can be asserted with full confidence as all our experiments only help us to reject null hypothesis. Moreover, Type II errors can limit the authenticity of significance observed in our studies. Nevertheless, when the required results are not obtained, the ideas should never be surrendered, but make it the well- born excuse to explore the way far beyond our stated hypothesis. Preconceived notions and biases can curb the expanse of our imagination and perspectives. As Thomas Jefferson had once stated, “Do not be frightened from inquiry by any fear of its consequences”. Inventing a new division of Science like Newton couldn’t possibly be everyone’s cup of tea. But overcoming dejection when met with failure and thinking a new possibility is a quality that each of us should imbibe from a mastermind like him. It is only when logical arguments rule our toil can we push ourselves to be innovative and persuade us to never settle for just an ‘absence of evidence’.