Sunday, February 12, 2006

Getting there too early

So I'm catching up on reading papers this weekend, and it is really starting to piss me off.

According to the various citation trackers, one of my papers has been cited a respectable number of times.


But the only reason I checked that is because I'm finding handfuls of papers where people seem not to have read my paper, or they would probably have cited it. Should have cited it.

The reviewers should have known and told them to cite it.

Fuck. Nobody even knows what they're missing.

It's especiallly frustrating because I had some really novel ideas at the time, but since we didn't know how to 'prove' them, they didn't all make it into the paper.

Now, just a few years later, other people seem to be proposing, with no more evidence than I had at the time, the same things I was thinking all along. But I don't understand how they're able to get away with it, since it's still essentially just speculation.


People say that if you want to 'claim' an idea, you should write a review, at least in some fields. In my field, reviews are only invited, and the only people who get invited are... you guessed it, already PIs.

It's quite possible somebody did invite my advisor to write one at one point, but maybe it fell through the cracks.

Possibly more annoying, I was one of the first people to publish on this thing, but it wasn't hot yet, so my paper is in a good but not Top journal, and all the subsequent ones- less novel if you ask me!!- are in the Top Journals because NOW IT'S TIMELY.


It's one thing to be mildly irritated by this situation, since there's nothing I can do about the past. But I'm worried I will be plagued with this sort of non-recognition for whatever might be left of my 'career'.

I'm thinking of adding, along with my career-letter-writing campaign, a blanket reprint attack on ignorance.


At 10:18 PM, Anonymous oliviacw said...

Sounds like you need another letter-writing campaign - to tell all those people that they should have cited you!

At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Zuska said...

If I were you, I would send each of these research teams a letter saying how interesting their work is to you and the links you see between what they are doing and your own work; you have included a reprint of one of your own papers for their interest, blah blah, would love to receive reprints of any of your recent work, etc. Not only will you gently alert them to the priority of your own work (and thus increase likelihood that they will cite you in the future), it is not out of the realm of likelihood that one of them may be intrigued enough to want to interview you for a job. If your publication is in a lesser known journal, they may truly not be aware of it. Make them aware!

On a related note...Have you heard of/read "Who Succeeds in Science?" by Gerhard Sonnert & Gerald Holton? You might find it helpful or at least interesting. One of the conclusions they draw from their study is that "men are better able to be 'maverickish or noncomformist' whereas women stick more to established rules and procedures." You did not want to say more in your paper than you absolutely could prove, yet you see others making speculations with no more evidence than you had. The conclusion I would draw is that it is okay to speculate in a research paper, and that you should start doing so in the future. If a reviewer or editor doesn't like it, they'll tell you to take it out. But it is reasonable to speculate in the conclusions of a paper as to new directions or possible mechanisms the data point towards. You can do more than just stick very closely to the story the data support at present.

At 11:14 AM, Anonymous BWJones said...

Don't sweat it. It took two years before anybody started paying attention to my work in retinal degeneration. I published and published and presented the findings at meetings for two years and was completely ignored. It was not until the third year when I could engineer a presentation to the right audience and made some kick ass slides with animations using Keynote that anybody started "getting it". It sounds stupid, and it is irritating as hell, but sometimes how you sell it is more important than the message. The trick it seems is to combine good science with good advertising.

At 1:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No offense meant, but get over it. There's lots of ideas in the air at any time picked out but many people and the "originator" of the idea, whatever that might mean, often doesn't get credit. Move on. If you're consistently good at creating new, important, useful intellectual material, the older work will get recognized post facto. Or so I believe, and it's been more or less my experience-- and even if not, so what?!

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

re: the last Anonymous comment, I would agree with you in principle, but if you've read any of my other posts, you know my problem right now is getting a faculty position, or at the very least, more funding, in the IMMEDIATE present. So recognition post-facto isn't going to help me if I end up getting a McJob in the meantime. My strong impression is that nobody hires people who are off the radar. You have to have a certain amount of visibility to be considered as a serious candidate.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Oh, and to Zuska, don't worry about me not wanting to speculate! That's not the problem at all.

First, my thesis advisor is terrified of speculating in papers. So, he made me take it all out of the work I did in his lab.

And with good reason: in our field, it's not that reviewers will take you to take it out, they will reject the paper, on the grounds that your data don't support your claims, even if you make a point of labeling "conclusions" separately from "speculation/future directions".

I find it extremely frustrating since I've read several books on writing, specifically science writing. They all say that one of the biggest differences between scientific publications and mass media is that scientists know how to qualify our statements, and mass media tend to delete all of the qualifiers and overstate our findings. But in my field, qualifiers are also frequently ignored... unless you're somebody Big and Famous, in which case you can speculate all you want. Basically the politics play too much into who is allowed to speculate about what.

I guess that's what makes me so mad. I'm not even allowed, really, to get my ideas out there.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Matthew said...

I've been thinking about this for a couple days now I guess, and it finally hit me tonight while I was reading some work that I hope to be included with someday, if only because I made a lot of waves and they have to sort me out as chaff from the wheat.

You've got to let them know! Yeah, waiting around, maybe making a kickass Keynote presentation might do it in the end and win people over to your side, but that's in the future and you need recognition now. There should be nothing wrong with contacting them and saying, 'look, I was reading your paper and noticed my paper (and be sure to note the date on it) addresses a similar thing, have you read it?'. If that gets you ridicule or negative reactions, something is up with the world. You have to remember that science is built on being a cocky bastard and bringing up your work and defending it whenever possible--so that when someone hears [insert your speciality here], they think "YoungFemaleScientist! Of course!"

As far as speculation in papers goes, yes, you do have a reason to be annoyed about the lack of speculation allowed. My suggestion would be to write a short paper addressing this problem, and suggesting that while many scientists choose not to speculate for fear of rejection or the thievery of their ideas, when someone wishes to put forth a not-unreasonable speculative situation it should not be shot down automatically. You can't fix widespread problems by chatting abotu them to your coworkers over coffee, you have to bring as much attention to it as possible. Journals exist as a way of communication between members of the same field, and as a member of that field you have a right to express your opinion on the way certain things are handled.

It may not work, of course, but it can't hurt to try. If not, you can always stick it on your cv and show people your opinion on the matter.

Much luck in the future. As much as this sucks for you, I'm glad you write as it gets me off my ass to try to do meaningful work once in a while!


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