Implications of impacting invisible investigations

May 18, 2011

One of the issues we often discuss on this blog and in the general academic blogosphere relates to generating credit for your scientific work. Your career is influenced in many ways by the degree to which you receive recognition for the work you have done. For the most part this centers around the scientific publication of novel research findings. The issues are varied.

  • What is the reputation of the  journal in which you have published your work?
  • How many authors are credited and what is your position in the list?
  • How good are the experiments, controls and interpretations?
  • How many different methods and approaches did you use to triangulate your conclusions?

These are but a few considerations.

Ultimately, one of the more important ways to value your work brings together many of these other factors.

Citations. How many subsequent publications see fit to cite your paper? This shows, imperfectly, that your paper matters in some way. Matters to the subfield you are in, matters to the larger -ology or matters to other fields entirely. People have read your paper and have decided that your data in some way or other are necessary to the interpretation of  their data. Or are necessary to credit for instigating their work, for shaping their work or for making their work possible.

The topic for today is a simple question. What if your work influences scientific work that is invisible?

Invisible because it is being conducted in a setting in which public communication of results is not a priority or is banned?

In the behavioral pharmacology fields most familiar to me, the best example is the pharmaceutical industry. They use a ton of assays that have been developed, verified, refined, proven, extended, controlled, enhanced….in traditional academic laboratories. They get some ideas about applying a given compound series to a specific disease condition or within a preclinical paradigm from the academic literature as well.

Over time, some of these become their bread-and-butter assays that are used day in, day out to evaluate drug candidates.

Examples are legion but when it comes to methodological approaches, we are talking about such things as intravenous self-administration, locomotor stimulation (or suppression), the Morris water maze, tail suspension, forced swim, the elevated plus-maze, the 5-choice serial reaction time test….and many, many others. These are established/historical examples but science is ever moving forward. People developing methods in their academic labs now are going to create some methods that are used over the next couple of decades in industry.


Now if all of this private use was published, the original academic scientist would accrue traditional credit in citations. And all would be hunky-dory for that person’s career. The trouble is, there is really no way other than word of mouth to assess the invisible, private use of a scientific paper, finding, method or assay.


I’m curious, DearReader, if you have any thoughts on how the academic might make some of this invisible use of her work more visible?  Do you get support letters for your Promotions and Tenure committee evaluations from someone in industry? Do you invent new subcategories on your Full Monty CV to indicate this in some way? List consulting work with an emphasis on how the private company needs you to help them with a method that you developed or invented?







No Responses Yet to “Implications of impacting invisible investigations”

  1. Morgan Price Says:

    Wouldn’t this stuff get cited in patents eventually?


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    Not sure but I doubt run of the mill stuff like a behavioral assay or the original validations of that assay would be cited. In contrast, these are the sorts of papers that stack up the citations in the academic setting.


  3. But it would be nice for T&P use to get a glowing letter of support from a pharmaceutical company stating how valuable your assay or experimental method that you created is. I guess the first thing is how would the investigator know that industry is even using their stuff until it shows up on a patent application or in an industry-sponsored paper in some obscure journal. And I doubt industry will be proactive and tell them that they are using it.

    Unless it became an prototypical assay, would industry even reveal that they are using your assay until it had to report findings to regulatory agencies like the FDA? BigPharma is so super secretive about what they do, that I imagine they will safeguarding against the slightest tipping of their hand.

    Genomic RepairWife works with these companies and they are all jockeying to know what each other is doing to the point where she can’t even leave them alone in her office for fear of them trying to dig up something.


  4. Christina Pikas Says:

    This is absolutely an issue. Another similar thing is journal articles that are very useful to clinicians who don’t publish. You might literally be saving lives, but your impact measured by citations only won’t show that.
    The only way to track something like protocols would be to measure downloads and/or require people to license their use. Neither of which solves the problem for existing protocols.


  5. Dude, if you’d publish your shitte in decent journals and not ones in the impact factor cellar, you wouldn’t have to worry about this nonsense.


  6. drugmonkey Says:

    Given the tremendous skew in the citations of individual articles in high IF journals, my points apply to CNS publications as well.


  7. drugmonkey Says:

    GR: absolutely true that this is the long game, not anything immediate. Gonna take a while for industry to figure out what optogenetics can do for drug development for example.


  8. Canadian_Brain Says:

    I think Mr. Morris and his professional reputation have done quite well with his water maze 🙂
    Trevor is doing ok with the 5-CSRTT too!


  9. CPP Says:

    Dude, if you publish your shitte in decent journals, it doesn’t matter how many citations you get. Counting citations is only important for justifying the significance of shitte published in a third-tier toilet.


  10. drugmonkey Says:

    CB- yes but that is on the strength of academic publication.


  11. drugmonkey Says:

    if you publish your shitte in decent journals, it doesn’t matter how many citations you get.

    Interesting viewpoint. Pathetic and sad….but interesting.


  12. CPP Says:

    I thought the whole point of this post is that it’s “unfair” to count citations?? Now you’re telling us it’s “sad and pathetic” to *not* count citations?? Make up your fucken mind, holmes!


  13. drugmonkey Says:

    When did I say it was unfair to count citations?

    in fact when did I bring up “fairness” at all?

    This post is about enhancing one’s academic profile. “fairness” ain’t really on the table in such scenarios….


  14. CPP Says:

    The way to enhance your academic profile is to publish your shitte in decent journals instead of third-tier toilets, not to worry about so
    me mysterious silent cryptic scientists who are reading it.


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