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Scientific failure and uncertainty in the health domain

A collaboration between the Journal of Trial and Error and The New Utrecht School.

Published onNov 11, 2022
Scientific failure and uncertainty in the health domain

In brief

Call for proposals

Call for contributions

Article Processing Charges


Word limit


6000 (excl. references & abstract)


April 1, 2023
1700h UTC+01:00

June 30, 2023
1700h UTC+01:00

Submit to

[email protected]

Update (February 7th): The call for proposals has been extended to April 1st.

Special Issue: Call for Contributions 

This special issue is a collaboration between the Journal of Trial and Error and The New Utrecht School, and is sponsored through the Social Innovation Program of the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht. Alongside the publication process a series of monthly lectures on scientific failure and uncertainty in the health domain will be organized at the UMC Utrecht.

Uncertainty is a fundamental reality of the health domain, broadly defined in The New Utrecht School as comprising of public health, global health, one health, planetary health, and healthcare. Health professionals deal with uncertainty when deciding the best treatment or course of action. Patients and their loved ones experience uncertainty about their future. Biomedical and clinical researchers  aim to transform this uncertainty into robust and reliable expertise. The 2016 New England Journal of Medicine editorial “Tolerating Uncertainty — The Next Medical Revolution?” has become a staple for those interested in uncertainty. Since then, interest in the role of uncertainty in the health domain has only increased.

At the same time, the role of failure and trial & error have received insufficient systematic attention in (bio)medical science. This is remarkable, since failure and trial & error in health research and medical practice seem inherently tied to uncertainty. Besides their link with uncertainty, failure and trial & error are interesting in their own right. Sharing failures can prevent others from making the same mistakes, saving time and money as well as improving patients’ lives. We therefore want to stimulate openness about scientific failure and trial & error in the health domain. Sharing trials and struggles of research and work without fear of repudiation requires  a meaningful learning environment based in an open working environment. Staff members should be able to share important and costly research that has hitherto been relegated to their file drawer, and will show students and fellow researchers that any methodologically sound research is valuable research, even if it doesn’t produce positive results.

In this call, we aim to inspire health professionals to take heed and critically reflect on the role of failure and trial & error in healthcare practices by sharing research. We want to explore how opening up on trial & error in health practice and medical research can be productive. What can we learn from failure? What do specific case studies showcasing the process of trial & error tell us about the best way to develop new treatments? 

With the goal of stimulating a critical discussion on the role of failure and trial & error in the health domain, we invite submissions that focus on empirical examples of failure and trial & error. We encourage a diversity of contributions, but all contributions should discuss the health domain. We actively encourage submissions of articles which have been previously written but were never published. Examples of potential contributions include:

  • Articles detailing research where mistakes were made

  • Articles about research leading to null or negative results

  • Articles from supporting personnel

  • Patient stories

  • Previously rejected articles

  • Data from failed research, presented with context   

Potential topics include:

  • (Bio)medical research

  • Medical education

  • Health psychology

  • Medical or administrative support

  • Patient care

  • Medical technology

Practical Information

Special Issue Editor-in-Chief

Stefan D.M. Gaillard ([email protected])


Maura Burke ([email protected])

Guest Editors

Eveline Ilcken
Rosalie Neijzen

Copy Editor

Jobke Visser ([email protected])


Please submit a proposal for consideration prior to beginning work on your contribution. The proposal should contain a brief outline (300 words max) of your potential contribution to this special issue. We will respond to proposals once the due date has passed. Feel free to contact any of the editors with any questions you might have at any point during the process.

Proposals are due by 1700h UTC+01:00 (Amsterdam), April 1st, 2023.

Final contributions are limited to 6000 words, excluding references and abstract. Please ensure that you submit a proposal early enough to have time to complete your full contribution by the deadline.

Full contributions are due by 1700h UTC+01:00 (Amsterdam), June 30th 2023.

Other general guidelines for submission to JOTE, and the submission portal itself can be found at:

Note that JOTE is a diamond open access journal. You will not be charged article processing fees.

Proposals and inquiries should be sent to Stefan D.M. Gaillard at [email protected].

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