Science blogging continued: more about scooping.

In something of an aside to his reply to Abel’s musings about a medical wikipedia, Orac makes a couple of good points about publishing hypotheses on blogs and the “scooping” issue:

[…]most cases of scooping aren’t nearly as blatant as the one [PZ Myers described]. Most are a lot more subtle, and the vast majority don’t involve any chicanery at all. Indeed, in my experience, most cases involve multiple labs working on the same question. In such cases, one of these groups will inevitably succeed at publishing their results first, and the rest will be “scooped,” no dishonesty or using ideas or experimental protocols without appropriate attribution necessary. […] (In fact, I wouldn’t even call it getting “scooped.”)

The Grey Area Problem, yes. (As an aside: I quite agree, being beaten to publication by legitimate methods is not the same thing as “being scooped” as I mean the term, though of course “scooped” is used both ways. Perhaps we need a better term for the despicable version.) My main point about grey areas is that their inevitability is not a dealbreaker: we have the tools and infrastructure to deal with them. Orac goes on to say:

In an ideal world, Bill Hooker’s concept would be the way things should work and any hint that labs might be scooping each other would result in offers of collaboration, but that isn’t always how things actually work.

The gentle implication of naivete is, of course, perfectly reasonable, and the realpolitik of the science tribe is already forcing me away from any strong position I might have started staking out (see, e.g., this).
Nonetheless, I think there’s a place for the naive position, and I’d like to keep it around, even if only to mark a boundary — “OK, fine, that’s too much trust, but how close to that can we get?”. Here’s the thing: that’s the way it does work with me. I won’t ever steal an idea from you, and if we are interested in the same questions I’d much rather share the work and the credit between us than turn science into some bullshit macho game. If you want to be famous, go ahead and be the guy on TV if our work is important enough to get coverage — I don’t give a rat’s. I just want to do science without running out of funds every year or two, and I don’t see why I should have to claw my way past my colleagues into one of the increasingly scarce tenure track positions to do it.

2 thoughts on “Science blogging continued: more about scooping.

  1. Bill, thanks so much for coming over to be part of the conversation. I have a deep appreciation for your ‘down under’ no-BS approach to things as my favorite colleague from my old institution hailed from Melbourne.
    Being married to an MD oncologist, I see daily how much we need to collaborate more without worrying who gets the credit. Yes, we need to be competitive for funding, but we can advance medicine faster by working together, even if it means getting credit simultaneously instead of scooping or beating someone else.
    I also wanted to say here that I greatly appreciated your comments on Janet’s blog a few weeks ago when I expressed my cynicism that the sci/med blogosphere will become as f***d up as the real scientific world despite the great relationships we’ve all developed on-line. Your optimism that our blogging community will prevail to re-establish humanity and civility in the daily lab world is an ideal I pray/wish for.
    P.S. sorry that my “pharm” name triggered your spam filter. I’ve had this problem with others and wish my employer had a policy that would permit me to blog with my real name.

  2. Your optimism that our blogging community will prevail to re-establish humanity and civility in the daily lab world is an ideal I pray/wish for.
    As I intimated in this post, I realise that my position is easily criticized as naive. I can live with that. 🙂
    sorry that my “pharm” name triggered your spam filter
    No problem for me, I’d just hate to miss an email from you (shouldn’t happen, as I’ve whitelisted you now). Happily, MT’s spamsniffer had no problem with this comment.

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