How Do You Avoid Getting 'Scooped' In The Biological Sense?
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10.7 years ago
ugly.betty77 ★ 1.1k

When I worked in physics and electrical engineering, 'getting scooped' usually meant someone reporting your specific finding before you and that finding can be an algorithm or a formula or a novel discovery. In large-scale biology, the notion seems to be quite different. For example, we often work on genome assembly or gene expression analysis, but in my mind the genome or gene expression are only steps to find interesting genes or biological mechanisms. Two groups working on gene expressions under light and dark conditions for a weird plant may focus on completely different results. Yet, biologists I work with tend to assume that the reporting of gene expression of the weird plant is 'the result' and not the specific finding. So, whoever submits a paper about gene expression of the weird plant is the first, no matter how sophisticated the findings are. Journals seem to go with that notion and the process creates unnecessary stress on us trying to do careful analysis and find something reportable.

Did you experience the same thing as a bioinformatician? How do you handle such situations?

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10.7 years ago

If group A and B work on the same problem and group A publishes first, but focuses on a different subset of the results, group B only got partially scooped. There's still novelty in group B's paper, just less than there would have been had they published before group A (the group B paper is more of a followup then). So, they'll probably have to publish in a "lower tier" journal. This can still be the case if group A's paper was total crap and mostly wrong while group B's paper was done properly. What journal a paper goes into depends greatly on how well the corresponding author can "sell the story" to an editor (among other things). Welcome to biology, it's rather competitive.

BTW, I come from a neuroscience/biophysics background, so others with different backgrounds may have different perceptions of this.

Small addition: this is also why you will typically see people at conferences presenting only published data (or only things that have been submitted). I personally know people who have been scooped by presenting unpublished data (I also know people who have scooped others and published sooner because of this).

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Thank you for the reply. I do not agree with biology being competitive part. As a policy, I try to do science without government funding or accept as little government money as possible (absolutely no direct money). So my method of working on problems tends to get slow. I never felt any competitive pressure in biology on the interesting scientific problems. The only 'competition' I see is in the engineering aspects of the field, such as 'first group to report doing genome assembly of a dragon' or 'first group to report using Mystery Nanopore technology' and so on.

'Selling the story' aspect and promotions are quite different from what I experienced in physics. Biologists tend to sell 'first' aspects, but they are often technological firsts instead of real discoveries.

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This has a lot to do with your sub-field. Start working on human diseases affecting a large percentage of the population and your perception will change.

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Even there, I can show you problems, which will be untouched for years because of political or other reasons. I cannot discuss them publicly here, but they exist.

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Theres probably an infinite number of interesting stories or problems out there that a biologist could work on, but that does not mean the field isn't competitive. Its more that journals, grant holders etc don't find them interesting or a priority.

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As gammyknee mentioned, that's undoubtedly true and also not a big worry. Large group dynamics will always produce a certain amount of that.

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Completely disagree. Im in evolutionary genomics and it is highly competitive. As new technologies and now methods come out, there is always a rush to use them with new samples to update current theories or hypotheses, so there is quite often an overlap in the studies that competing labs will be doing. You're right, technological 'firsts' tend to happen early, but real landmark papers take time, data (from technological 'firsts' no less) and considerable expertise to develop. And this is where the danger of getting scooped lies...

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