The zeitgeist is that science is deeply corrupt and needs to take major steps to improve its quality.
I agree that there are problems in science, although I think (following research by Dan Ariely) that major cheaters are relatively rare and that minor cheating is near universal. I also doubt that cheating has increased, but I have no research to support that idea.
Anyhow, one of the Big Ideas people often use to improve the situation is pre-registration of studies. I feel like I see someone suggest this at least once a week. Best example is this one. I personally don't see how this could possibly work.
In my experience, probably about 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 studies that I initiate wind up being published. And I think this is probably close to an optimal number. More often than not, we start collecting data and things look like it's not worth pursuing.
Sometimes the results look a lot more confusing. Sometimes the results look great, but in the meantime, we've thought of an awesome tweak, or even major improvement. Sometimes we think of a totally different experiment that is much cooler. Since an experiment in my field takes minimum 6 months of a person's life away, it sucks to do something that isn't the coolest possible idea you have.
Sometimes we find out a colleague is working on something similar. Sometimes there's a big meeting we want to present a certain story at. Sometimes the data tell us our theory was dumb and suggest a better theory.
In all these cases, taking the time to publish a negative result is not worth the cost. Either to me or to the field. But pre-registering studies would force us to spend that time. It would greatly impede the gradient descent process that characterizes our search for cool results.
And I dont know what it would add. Publishing negative results is great in theory, but I think reading a paper that summarizes a negative result would be almost a waste of time. This is getting long... I will explain why I am skeptical about negative results in my next post.
This may be highly field specific. In clinical studies, sure, go for it, pre-register. In my particular tiny little area, no way. I dont know how other areas work, but I suspect most scientists have a similar gradient descent procedure. In fact, in my field, the studies are quite involved, take ~6 months of hard work to collect the data for, and require big preparations. I think we are near to the clinical study end of the spectrum. I suspect that in fields with quicker studies, pre-registering is even more of a non-starter.