Finishing projects

December 30, 2016

If you are paid by the taxpayers, or generous private philanthropists, of your country to do science, you owe them a product. An attempt to generate knowledge. This is one of the things that orients much of my professional behavior, as I think I make clear on this blog.

If you haven’t published your scientific work, it doesn’t exist. This is perhaps an excessive way to put it but I do think you should try to publish the work you accomplish with other people’s money.

Much of my irritation with the publication game, prestige chasing, delusions of complete stories, priority / scooping fears and competition for scarce funding resources can be traced back to these two orienting principles of mine.

My irritation with such things does not, however, keep them from influencing my career. It does not save me from being pressured not to give the funders their due.

It is not unusual for my lab, and I suspect many labs, to have thrown a fair amount of effort and resources into a set of investigations and to realize a lot more will be required to publish. “Required”, I should say because the threshold for publication is highly variable.

Do I throw the additional resources into an effort to save what is half or three-quarters of a paper? To make the project to date publishable? I mean, we already know the answer and it is less than earth shaking. It was a good thing to look into, of course. Years ago a study section of my peers told us so to the tune of a very low single digit percentile on a grant application. But now I know the answer and it probably doesn’t support a lot of follow-up work.

Our interests in the lab have moved along on several different directions. We have new funding and, always, always, future funding to pursue. Returning to the past is just a drag on the future, right?

I sometimes feel that nobody other than me is so stupid as to remember that I owe something. I was funded by other people’s money to follow a set of scientific inquiries into possible health implications of several things. I feel as though I should figure out how to publish the main thing(s) we learned. Even if that requires some additional studies be run to make something that I feel is already answered into something “publishable”.