A collaborator just sent me an in press copy of a paper that examines the -ology of my PhD field area.

Huh. I think I’ve just been scooped?!?!

I have a paper deriving from the last chapter of my dissertation that is just waiting for my co-authors to give their OKs before it is submitted to the very same journal. The in press paper and my paper use similar methodologies for somewhat different purposes. I want to use the field area as an example of process that I think is happening in other parts of the world; they use the field area to demonstrate the applicability of some analytical techniques that they argue could be used in other parts of the world.

I’m feeling frustrated because they really are using similar methods in the exact same field area, and I don’t know what the implications of it are for the prospects of my paper getting published, particularly in the same journal.

On my side, I have a bunch of qualitative data from years spent in the field and they offer no evidence of ever having stepped foot on the ground. (This might explain why I had no idea anyone was doing such a thing.)

On their side, they’ve beaten me out the door. I know that I’m going to at least have to reference them before submitting the paper, and I suppose that the reviewers could definitely ask me to adjust some of my analyses based on their conclusions. It shouldn’t change the outcome of anything in my paper, but it would mean more work.

At the very worst, I guess the journal (and others too) could refuse to publish my paper because of the overlap in analyses…but our papers really are using the same means to very different ends, so I don’t think that’s going to be the case. More likely, I’ll have to explicitly state how my work is fundamentally different.

And here I was thinking that my field was relatively free from some of the pressures and competition that seem to plague other branches of science. Just last week, I was thinking about how I didn’t know of a single case where someone got scooped. But of course, if someone’s work gets scooped, either the paper never gets published or it gets reworked and recast as something completely different. Either way, the casual reader never knows of the scooping.

This just reinforces the need to move expeditiously through one’s research and writing and not to let drafts stagnate on the back burner waiting for the elusive free time to get the paper revised and submitted. This paper had sat from the time of my defense in September 2006 until this spring, and now I may pay a price for it.


  1. #1 Kim
    April 17, 2008

    Can you turn it around to your advantage, by mostly reworking your introduction? X et al. (2008) have shown that Technique Y is useful for Purpose Z. However, Process A in this area implies blah blah blah… If they didn’t do the exact thing, could you use their paper to make your study area seem even more Important and Cutting Edge?

  2. #2 Coturnix
    April 17, 2008

    Some journals love to publish such papers side-by-side, like a mini-special topical issue. This may work to your advantage.

  3. #3 volcano girl
    April 17, 2008

    I was scooped recently too. By a very well-established leader in my field based on an off-hand conversation in a van about a paper that I was in the midst of working on and that had been accepted with minor revisions. My paper came out basically one week after his because of hold ups in the editorial process. My advisor responded by saying that this guy is a well-known sponge. Oh, my naivet�! One can never be too careful!

    Why do you think your collaborator didn’t tell you what he/she was up to??

  4. #4 PhysioProf
    April 17, 2008

    My paper came out basically one week after his because of hold ups in the editorial process.

    Unless your paper would have been accepted into a higher-impact journal in the absence of the other group’s paper, then I wouldn’t call this “getting scooped”. Getting scooped is when your paper doesn’t make it into the journal it would have because of some other work that gets published first.

    Two papers coming out within weeks of each other, either in the same journal or in journals of comparable impact, is not getting scooped. This is contemporaneous publication, and no one is going to pay the slightest attention to which paper came out on April 7 and which came out on April 28. The two groups will be given equal credit for priority of the finding.

    This paper had sat from the time of my defense in September 2006 until this spring, and now I may pay a price for it.

    That is way too long to sit on a completed piece of work. Getting completed work out the door should always be at the absolute top of the to-do list of junior tenure-track faculty, without exception. It should come before teaching, administrative, doing new studies, eating, sleeping, or even taking a fucking whizz.

  5. #5 Becca
    April 17, 2008

    The casual reader may never see getting scooped in the strict sense (the PP approved sense)… but I can sure see glaring omissions in three ‘contemporaneous’ papers which are the original ‘discoveries’ of MFP (my favorite protein)… these papers just *shout* “let’s get it out the door NOW”.
    They aren’t bad papers, just a triffle short- and none published in very high profile journals.

    I would use this as leverage to kick my collaborators in the buns to get them to sign off on it, and wait and see what the editors/reviewers say about what (if anything) is necessary to revise. Good luck.

  6. #6 Neuro-conservative
    April 17, 2008

    Coturnix makes an interesting suggestion, which seems to happen frequently in hot subfields. The alternative is to send it to the competing journal, which may now have an incentive to try to publish your article first! Which journal is the in-press article — the one with the long publication/publisher lag or the one with the shorter publisher lag but longer review process?

  7. #7 ScienceWoman
    April 17, 2008

    Thanks for your suggestions…

    Much as I heart PhysioProf, I must disagree with him on this point. Submitting a paper does NOT take precedence over labor, birth, or early weeks at home with my child. My previous paper was submitted 12 days before I gave birth, and once I got back to working, I was consumed by the revisions on it (plus the moving, teaching and parenting gigs). So it’s not like I’ve been slacking around here.

  8. #8 Gabriel
    April 17, 2008

    How bad. Anyway, if there are solutions, i’m sure you’ll find the best. Big hug.

  9. #9 PhysioProf
    April 17, 2008

    Yeah, I guess babies come first.

  10. #10 Jane
    April 17, 2008

    Is this something you could address in the cover letter to the editor when you do submit your paper? (in addition to addressing it in the paper itself, of course) I think as long as you’re crystal-clear in spelling out the differences (and pointing out how your work is, of course, better 🙂 ), this shouldn’t be a huge deal-breaker. Good luck!

  11. #11 Chris Rowan
    April 18, 2008

    I think you should be safe. All you need to do is write in your introduction/discussion something like “Our results clearly demonstrate the usefulness of technique x, as recently advocated by [evil scoopees]”, and in the covering letter to the journal something like “This type of analysis is an exciting new avenue of research in -ology, as demonstrated by the recent paper by [evil scoopees] in your journal (we’re so cutting edge, oh yes we are)”. That should cover it.

    On second thoughts, the bit in parentheses is probably optional.

  12. #12 Lab Lemming
    April 18, 2008

    “A collaborator just sent me an in press copy of a paper that examines the -ology of my PhD field area.”

    What do you mean by collaborator? Are they a co-author on your paper?

    If it makes you feel better, I have stuff I should publish that is up to 8 years old. At the Goldschmidt meeting, the diamond people wouldn’t even talk to me they were so pissed off. But as an industrial scientist, publishing is the absolute last priority, after reporting to regulators, sorting our samples, fixing the equipment, and cleaning the fridge.

  13. #13 Liam
    April 20, 2008

    actually, you could turn the situation to your advantage. since it sounds as if the methodology in your paper and the other is the same, you would not have to focus on justifying your methods per se (beyond a reasonable description). use the opportunity to focus on your results and implications. it also sounds like, because of your field data, your paper is stronger. if true, perhaps it is reasonable to try a higher profile journal in your field of study and springboard off the other paper.

    at any rate, i would be writing fast and furiously to adapt to the new development and get the paper submitted ASAP.

  14. #14 CCPhysicist
    April 20, 2008

    Been there at least once in the distant past.

    If your co-authors are more senior than you, please realize that their delay is your problem. You need to drive the publication process because it matters more to you than to them. They already have tenure and zillions of publications. You don’t. Make it happen.

  15. #15 Andrea Grant
    April 21, 2008

    Eeep! I submitted a half-baked paper last year because I had been forewarned that I was about to be scooped. The paper was rejected and I was really upset because I could see how much I had rushed and all the things I’d glossed over in my panic. I find it incredibly stressful to think that I could work on an idea for a long time and in the end all that work would be “wasted” if someone else publishes it first. But then, even video games make me nearly hyperventilate from the time stress.

    Sounds like the previous ideas of reworking the intro would help, and I’d agree having field data has got to shed a different light on the topic–in my field model papers and data papers are always both welcome.

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