In science, a null result is a result without the expected content: that is, the proposed result is absent.1 It is an experimental outcome which does not show an otherwise expected effect. This does not imply a result of zero or nothing, simply a result that does not support the hypothesis. The term is a translation of the scientific Latin nullus resultarum, meaning "no consequence".
In statistical hypothesis testing, a null result occurs when an experimental result is not significantly different from what is to be expected under the null hypothesis. While some effect may in fact be observed, its probability (under the null hypothesis) does not exceed the significance level, i.e., the threshold set prior to testing for rejection of the null hypothesis. The significance level varies, but is often set at 0.05 (5%).
As an example in physics, the results of the Michelson–Morley experiment were of this type, as it did not detect the expected velocity relative to the postulated luminiferous aether. This experiment's famous failed detection, commonly referred to as the null result, contributed to the development of special relativity. Note that the MMX did in fact appear to measure a non-zero "drift", but the value was far too small to account for the theoretically expected results; it is generally thought to be inside the noise level of the experiment.2
- Giunti, C.; et al. (1999). "New ordering principle for the classical statistical analysis of Poisson processes with background". Phys. Rev. D 59 (5): 053001. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.59.053001.
- Role of the Michelson-Morley experiments in making determinations about competing theories