Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A bad scientific interaction.

The science: One of my collaborators supplies interesting molecules to lots of people. Six months ago, my student and I wrote up a paper on our measurements of some of these. We were pretty pleased with ourselves, because our data lets us make a pretty strong statement about the underlying conduction process in this system.

The sociology: While we wrote this up, a competing big group had been doing measurements on the same molecules with a very different technique. They reached the opposite conclusion as us in their case. At the suggestion of my chemistry colleague, we had a discussion about this with them once we both submitted our papers. There is some chance that we're both right, since the measurement systems are so different, so when we revised our paper, we allowed for that possibility. Our paper came out very quickly - five months ago. In the meantime, our competitors had a much longer review process (this doesn't necessarily say anything about their paper; review can be extremely variable.). Their paper just came out in a different journal. Not only is their wording much stronger than ours (basically stating that their suggested explanation is the only possible conclusion, period). They don't even reference our work, despite having known about it for several months. Not cool.

4 comments:

Dan M said...

Used to be, you could only complain about stuff like this in private, to your colleagues. Times have changed, haven't they? Blogs are a dish best served cold...

Admirable restraint in not naming names. Not that it is hard to figure out, given the link to your appropriately referenced article and all.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Doug Natelson said...

Yeah, I probably should've left this off. I did try to be suitably vague. Since my total readership isn't too big, this is a classic case of security-through-obscurity.

Anonymous said...

A good question would be if such "not playing nice" behavior works in practice (i.e. on average improves one's standing in whatever sense).

My observation has been that people who reference other works meticulously seem to be doing better on average, then those who practice this "know but won't cite" approach. But that just might be a correlation, not a causation.

My theory is that quite a few people ending up in science were rewarded for narrow focus, and never had to develop reasonable social skills, and ability to see through the effects of their actions in the long run. So the rough angles never end up being smoothed out.

There is a different version of this syndrom, of the form "we shall graciously let you cite us, but citing you is out of the question". I was always wondering what is the rationale behind that ...

Dan M said...

The cost of citing somebody in one's papers is zero. I've never understood why one wouldn't include every citation that could be even slightly relevant. Far better to have too many citations than too few.