Speculating about the implications of data and results, both your own and that of other researchers is an essential part of the scientific process, and one of the joys of being a scientist. However, while not completely outlawed, pure speculation has been discouraged in all but its mildest forms.
There are, of course, good reasons to regulate how speculation enters the literature. The primary role of a scientific paper is to describe a set of experiments or observations – how they were conducted and what were their results – along with conclusions that the authors believe are well supported by these data. And one of the primary tasks assigned to reviewers and editors is to decide whether the conclusions reported by the authors are actually justified by their results.
As a result, the “Discussion” section of papers, which was once the home to much speculation, has over the years become a repository of only the most obvious and strongest conclusions, along with any accompanying caveats. And when authors try to include ideas that arise from, but which are not yet well supported by, the data, it is common for reviewers to demand that such speculation be removed.
While we agree that it makes sense to differentiate conclusions, we also feel something important is lost for both readers and authors by denying the people most familiar with the data the chance to freely speculate about its meaning and implications. Indeed it is one of the more common complaints of authors that current norms in peer review largely deny them this opportunity.
After discussing this matter with our editorial board, where opinions about the need for and wisdom of intervention were highly varied, we have decided to offer authors the opportunity to include an “Ideas and Speculation” subsection within their Discussion.
This section will be reviewed, but only for factual inaccuracies, clarity and speculation not germane to the paper. Some types of speculation – especially things that could be interpreted as suggestions for clinical practice – will not be allowed. But overall, this will be a place for authors to share their ideas about their work.
Questions and comments are welcome. Please annotate publicly on the article or contact us at hello [at] elifesciences [dot] org.