The importance of coming second (in scientific publishing)

Coming second

Progress is Medicine (and most other scientific disciplines) does not commonly happen through dramatic, paradigm-shifting, “Eureka” moments. It is the result of small findings and discoveries that are appended to existing knowledge.

Scientific research can be a cutthroat business, with undue pressure to publish quickly, first, and frequently. Being scooped is loosely defined as when two independent groups studying the same system produce the same or similar results, and one group publishes their work first. The resulting race to publish ahead of competitors is intense and to the detriment of the scientific endeavour.

Being scooped is often considered to devalue the second, complementary study; many journals will reject it citing lack of novelty. However, there is a self-evident benefit to publishing complementary research. Just as summiting Everest second is still an incredible achievement, so too, is the scientific research resulting from a group who have (perhaps inadvertently) replicated the important findings of another group.

Some scientific journals are defusing the fear of getting “scooped” by making it easier for scientists to publish results that have appeared elsewhere. PLoS Biology (Public Library of Science) is formalising a policy whereby manuscripts that confirm or extend a recently published study (“scooped” manuscripts, also referred to as complementary) are eligible for consideration at PLOS Biology.

SOURCE: PLoS and The Atlantic

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