This was written as a response to this post over at Science Professor. Then I noticed that she's apparently taken me off her blogroll.
Interesting. I wonder what that's about.
Briefly, in this post she writes about what to do when someone she's pretty sure is a competitor sends an email asking for help on a method her own lab has struggled with but eventually solved (and hasn't published yet).
This is one I can see from both sides... sort of.
In my field there is a lot of perceived competition when, in reality, personal tastes strongly influence what actually gets done.
That means two different groups can be working on "the same thing" and do totally different experiments. There's plenty to do and everyone has different skills.
So it's really rare that two groups are doing exactly the same experiments exactly the same way.
Then you might as well help each other, advance science, and all that? Right?
Except that I have been on the other end, trying to ask people for tips, usually not on unpublished work (I'm usually too out of the loop to know to ask until the paper comes out). More often I'm asking about things they've published... with necessary details lacking.
Hard to know if it's deliberate or accidental when people publish sloppy & incomplete methods sections??
I've witnessed both- the PI who is distracted and doesn't read the manuscript carefully, and the PI who tells the student/postdoc to omit certain particulars on purpose.
But sometimes I write to the authors asking for clarification, and I can't get an answer out of these people.
I've gotten all kinds of excuses, my favorite of which is "I can't remember how we did that, it was so long ago."
Yeah, there's this amazing invention called writing it down???
I can only guess that they
a) think I'm trying to scoop them?
b) think I'll find out they faked all their claims?
Why else act that way?
So invariably they're paranoid (for whatever reason) or lazy about sharing, and I end up moving slower than I'd like, reinventing the wheel and wondering how we can enforce adherence to the scientific method (write your paper so that ANYONE can reproduce your results COMPLETELY).