Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Accentuate the Positives

Wow, so I totally didn't write about the upside of being scooped immediately after the downside. Thanks for being forgiving, Internets.

There have been many upsides to getting scooped; most notably, it was a much-needed kick in the pants. I now realize that there is some urgency in doing and publishing science, even if you're not curing cancer so it seems like no one cares. There are other people out there studying the same model system and similar questions (see post on Science Inbreeding below) and it's unreasonable to think we'll never overlap. Whether it's accidental or not, overlap happens and there is only one person on top. My dissertation will not win any Nobel Prizes. That does not mean what I'm doing is not important or being dutifully studied by anyone else in the world. I think that in science, a balance between collaboration and competition is necessary. I think I have a little too much of the former, and not enough of the latter.

The tangible manifestation of this urgency is that I am analyzing my data in earnest, and actually writing. I am making figures! FIGURES! I can still publish my data thanks to some bells and whistles I have that the published study didn't have, but they probably have an expiration date. It is possible that this other group has my bells and whistles waiting in the wings, poised to publish.

Another upside of all this is that my results were validated. This is probably the most difficult of all upsides for me to be happy about, honestly. I think as a scientist, I should be happiest about this one, because what I was looking at was real! My results are reproducible! But... imagine the elation of going on a treasure hunt and finding something rare or valuable, something you can claim as yours. Imagine carrying it around in your pocket for a few months, getting more and more attached to it. You get excited about showing it to someone, and you finally reveal your prize only to find out your friend has one just like it. In fact, they're pretty common in these parts. Joe down the street has a collection, you can sell that to him for fifty cents! The conclusions and insights I drew from my data became precious to me; to see them in someone else's paper made them feel commonplace, like just another Fact brought to you by Science. But this is supposed to be about upsides. It is an upside that my data was validated because now I can present my study with a firmer foundation than it had before.

Lastly... getting scooped does make a cool story. Especially when I tell the version with pirates.

Totally a scientist.

1 comment:

  1. Oops, I didn't realize I was reading an old post before. :)

    It's too bad that the real point of science, finding out and confirming things about the world, gets a bit lost in the publishing competition. But what other way is there to judge a scientist's abilities? It's definitely unfortunate that it's not a perfect evaluation (submitting a publication one week later than someone else doesn't make you a worse scientist) but it seems that we have to have something.