When has an author been scooped? It sounds like a simple question, but in fact, as a recent editorial meeting unfolded, this issue became far more complex than I had thought.
Laurence A. Turka
Submitter: Hartmut Weiler | email@example.com
Ziegler Family Chair for Research, Director Transgenic Core Facility
Published September 21, 2009
I am afraid that your editorial letter, while documenting "good citizenship" of the editors and their concerns for an investigator's vanity, will in fact confirm the worst fears of researchers getting ready to submit a "hot" story. Your statements lend vivid proof to what we all suspected is going in editorial offices of what the editors like to think of as a "top notch / up to the latest" periodical. Your revelations will in all likelihood re-enforce a worrisome trend in investigators publication strategies: A common advice given by and to colleagues is to rather submit a "premature" and preliminary version of a manuscript as fast as humanely possible, in order to establish priority (for whatever that means and is good for).....and hope that requests to amend the manuscript will give enough time to complete critical aspects of the work. This attitude not only makes reviewers and editors lives more difficult, but in addition -and that's the most worrisome aspect of this- in effect penalizes researchers who make an effort to push a discovery as far as science will carry it.
"Priority" considerations should be reserved for patent applications, where following the wild speculations based on the bare minimum of enabling data can in fact make for a quite entertaining read at times. Provided the quality and extent of the work are comparable, the priority question should take a back seat to the fact that independent validation of results is essential and a great confidence booster. A "reasonable" time window for considering a body of work co-incidental would be defined by examining whether the critical aspects of the work in question could by any means have been conducted after the first (competing) publication.
Please keep in mind that for most of us [researchers], science is not a rat race for the first place, where the winner takes it all.
Submitter: Lukas Jeker | firstname.lastname@example.org
University of California San Francisco; Diabetes Center
Published September 2, 2009
Dear Dr. Turka, Dear Editors,
Thank you for your editorial (and discussions) on the important issue of "timeliness" of publications. I believe that "timeliness" as a criterion for publication is far overrated, especially for studies that sometimes take 3-5 years (gene targeting etc.). Personally, I appreciate thorough papers that confirm previous recent findings if they are published in high profile (hence visible) journals. I see them more as confirming and complementing data of important findings than lost races (with limits of course). The scientific quality should count more than the speed. In the field of immunology it has become common to read papers with triple ko mice and the like. The breeding alone of such complex genetic models can take up to a year, and before that, the generation of each gene targeted mouse takes years. For the science it probably does not matter in the long term if a paper is published now or a few months later. I see the problem in the system of merits, awards, and publications and "impact factor mania" that decide on individual's careers. The system as it is now favors incomplete manuscripts with premature or overstating conclusions that might be only partially correct. More thorough manuscripts that include more and better controls, include negative data that more likely reflects daily life in a research lab, contain more rigorous testing, appropriate statistical analysis (including decent numbers of samples/group) and illuminate the same problem from different angles, have a disadvantage and as we know, the peer review system does not always eliminate the poor papers. The consequences are that too many papers are published, contributing to our daily data overload and too often experiments are not reproducible or manuscripts need to be corrected postpublication. The current system might also bias towards systems that allow quick returns like in vitro systems. This is unfortunate as publishing negative results -should in vivo the relevance of an in vitro finding be questioned- is very difficult. A good example is the Th17 hype that is ongoing since two papers showed the generation of T cells that secrete IL-17 in vitro (Veldhoen et al., Immunity 2006, Bettelli et al., Nature 2006 ). Now, 3 years later, the papers have been cited > 900 times, but in vivo, the role of IL-17 is still very controversial (Haak et al., JCI 2009) and far from being understood.
The current pressure to publish (grant deadlines, principal investigator's and researcher's own expectations, career steps) makes it very hard to decide when a story should be prepared for publication. Too often there is simply no time to completely investigate a question leading to release of minimal publishable units. Fewer but better reports would help to identify the real scientific advancements. In this regard I believe that science will benefit more from a confirmatory, thorough paper stressing an important finding published a few months after an initial report than from hundreds of speculative, premature papers.
Submitter: Zhongzhou Yang | email@example.com
Laboratory of Cardiovascular Development; Model Animal Research Center
Published September 2, 2009
I read your article entitled Top Priority.
My opinion is that your journal shouldn't reject the manuscript just because a similar one appears online in another journal. It is unfair for the authors because they lost a lot of time waiting for your reviewing and doing revision. In this case, novelty to your journal means being the first journal to publish such discovery. The novelty of the manuscript is still there even if it comes to public access a couple of months later. We all know that you can not repeat a reported work in two or three months, in particular, for a work using KO mice.
As authors, we think that many high-profile journals go astray from noble and cause of science as do many researchers. We care too much on impact factor and the name of journals. Take a look at the webpage of quite a few high profile journals. It looks they are very proud to show the high impact factor of their journals.
We should return to what it was for science and doing research. Otherwise, we work just for fame and fortune, which is futile and empty but brings a heavy burden on our shoulder every second. Doing scientific research should means to pursue the truth with interest and joy. But now, do we know what we are doing?
Thank you very much!