Scooping and Inbreeding

June 30, 2010

Go read The Scoop:

Ideally, our scientist inbreeding would result in lots of people attacking different facets of the same system, or taking advantage of the same system in different ways… but sometimes we are working on the exact same thing, without even realizing it, and then we have a baby with legs coming out of its head. Well, one of them does. The other one has a publication or two and the sense that they did not waste the past two years of their life.

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9 Responses to “Scooping and Inbreeding”

  1. zoubl Says:

    Thanks for posting. This is why communication is so important. If the poster knew the group – they came out of the same lab or is somehow close to them, couldn’t they have made each other aware of what they were doing to avoid the agony? I’ve had the experience of someone graciously informing me of what she was working on with the intention of keeping lines of communication open. She of course was taking a risk, but also must have found it worth her effort to reach out. I’ve also seen plenty of journals publish two back-to-back papers on the same topic from different groups. Two labs independently publishing the same thing can strengthen the finding. It’s too bad that many people seem to have this “me first” mentality.

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  2. It is absolutely pathetic that this fucking blogger thinks this is some kind of general truism of the biosciences:

    Scientist inbreeding is a term I use for the following problem: because scientists specialize in single molecules in single pathways in single cells of single organisms, it is inevitable that the new scientists you train will have the same specialization and ideas as you.

    It is a load of fucking horseshit that “scientists specialize in single molecules in single pathways in single cells of single organisms”. Sure, some do: the ones who are neither smart nor creative enough to do anything other than trod the fruitless well-worn path delineated by what they have observed their mentors do.
    But smarter and more creative bioscientists realize that this kind of approach to understanding biology is pretty much reaching a fucking dead end. If you are stupid and boring enough to build your scientific career around “specializ[ing] in single molecules in single pathways in single cells of single organisms”, then as far as I’m concerned, you get what you fucking deserve. We are now in an era where we need to transcend this kind of ignorant mickey-mouse reductionistic thinking, and begin the much more exciting and creative process of integrating hard-won molecular and genetic understanding developed over the last 40 years into appropriate tissue, organ, and organismic levels of physiological analysis.
    These fuck-ups getting scooped is a good thing: they either adapt their research strategies to the twenty-first motherfucking century, or they get shitcanned from the system.

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  3. whimple Says:

    Well, he’s just a grad student, so his getting scooped is acceptable losses as far as the lab is concerned. This kind of thing is going to happen from time to time when you are racing to publish in a really hot area, and after all, nobody wins every race they enter. You just need enough ponies on the track to keep up the total winning stream. Another upside: what a way to select for the brightest and most motivated!

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  4. Lou Says:

    Isn’t this the reason why people go to conferences, and, you know, talk to each other and see some posters?
    Maybe it’s because I worked in such a small field that ALL the bigwigs working on various little bits of the field, could be guessed (if not outright known), but surely the onus is on the PI and the members of the group to be informed about “whom might be working on something similar”?
    And, as ScientistMother correctly pointed out in the comment at the original post, there is always some way of spinning the tale in a different way.
    The key is to not sit on it and stew, but to get it out.

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  5. Lorax Says:

    There’s scooped and there’s SCOOPED! Usually, if you’re scooped you have something slightly different that can still be published in a lower-tiered journal. If you’re SCOOPED, maybe should have a better idea what’s going on in the field, or your boss should, or get your posters published more quickly.

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  6. DrugMonkey Says:

    Usually, if you’re scooped you have something slightly different that can still be published in a lower-tiered journal.
    Note that there are some laboratories in which “lower-tiered” is simply not on the table. The PI refuses to stoop so low and therefore YMMV with respect to the scooped / SCOOPED quotient.

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  7. qaz Says:

    Note that there are some laboratories in which “lower-tiered” is simply not on the table. The PI refuses to stoop so low and therefore YMMV with respect to the scooped / SCOOPED quotient.
    That’s not a problem with being SCOOPED vs scooped. That’s a problem with an arrogant PI who is too concentrated on _Science_ to do real science.

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  8. Eric Lund Says:

    That’s not a problem with being SCOOPED vs scooped. That’s a problem with an arrogant PI who is too concentrated on _Science_ to do real science.
    True enough for those of us who have been around long enough to establish some kind of career, but for a grad student it’s a distinction without a difference.
    I come from a physics background and a relatively small specialty, so it’s hard (but not impossible) to be scooped by surprise. We have a preprint culture and a strong cultural tradition of sending students to conferences. I understand that not all areas of science are like that, but the advisor should be somewhat more on top of things. Otherwise, as Tom Lehrer put it:

    And then I write
    By morning, night,
    And afternoon,
    And pretty soon
    My name in Dnepropetrovsk is cursed,
    When he finds out I publish first!

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  9. qaz Says:

    True enough for those of us who have been around long enough to establish some kind of career, but for a grad student it’s a distinction without a difference.
    But, now, again, we’ve moved out of the scooped vs. SCOOPED problem and into a grad student/PI problem. (Now, what we have is a grad student who wants the cachet of super-Science-PI and is upset because super-Science-PI turns out not to be a PI doing super science.) The fact that a grad student comes with this sort of freak-out/worry implies a lack of quality training being provided by the Glamourous PI.
    If the PI was of any quality, the PI would have been on top of the issue and would have steered the grad student to a project that couldn’t be SCOOPED. Now that the project has been scooped, it is the PI’s responsibility to help the grad student get the best publication possible out of it.

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