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Sharing o f R e s e a r c h R e s u l t s 29 Sharing of Research Results In the 17th century, many scientists kept new findings secret so that others could not claim the results as their own. Prominent figures of the time, including Isaac Newton, often avoided announcing their discoveries for fear that someone else would claim priority. The solution to the problem of making new discoveries available to others while assuring their authors credit was worked out by Henry Oldenburg, the secretary of the Royal Society of London. He won over scientists by guaranteeing both rapid publication in the societyâs Philosophical Transactions and the official support of the society if the authorâs priority was questioned. Oldenburg also pioneered the practice of sending submitted manuscripts to experts who could judge their quality. Out of these arrangements emerged both the modern scientific journal and the practice of peer review. Various publication practices, such as the standard scope of a manuscript and authorship criteria, vary from field to field, and digital technologies are creating new forms of publication. Nevertheless, publication in a peer-reviewed journal remains the most important way of disseminating a complete set of research results. The impor- tance of publication accounts for the fact that the first to publish a view or findingânot the first to discover itâtends to get most of the credit for the discovery. Once results are published, they can be freely used by other researchers to extend knowledge. But until the results are so widely known and familiar that they have become common knowledge, peo- ple who use them are obliged to recognize the discoverer by means of citations. In this way, researchers are rewarded by the recognition of their peers for making results public. It may be tempting to adopt a useful idea from an article, manu- script, or even a casual conversation without giving credit to the originator of that idea. But researchers have an obligation to be scru- pulously honest with themselves and with others regarding the use
30 On Being a S c i e n t i s t of othersâ ideas. This allows readers to locate the original source the author has used to justify a conclusion, and to find more detailed in- formation about how earlier work was done and how the current work differs. Researchers also are expected to treat the information in a manuscript submitted to a journal to be considered for publication or a grant proposal submitted to an agency for funding as confidential. Proper citation, too, is essential to the value of a reference. When analyzed carefully, many citation lists in published papers contain numerous errors. Beyond incorrect spellings, titles, years, and page numbers, citations may not be relevant to the current work or may not support the points made in the paper. Authors may try to inflate the importance of a new paper by including a reference to previously published work but failing to clearly discuss the connection between their new results and those reported in the previous study. Practices such as responsible peer review are thus important tools to prevent these problems. Citations are important in interpreting the novelty and signifi- cance of a paper, and they must be prepared carefully. Researchers have a responsibility to search the literature thoroughly and to cite prior work accurately. Implied in this responsibility is that authors should strive to cite (and read) the original paper rather than (or in addition to) a more recent paper or review article that relies on the earlier article. Researchers have other ways to disseminate research findings in addition to peer-reviewed research articles. Some of these, such as seminars, conference talks, abstracts, and posters represent long- standing traditions within science. Generally, these communications are seen as preliminary in nature, giving an author the chance to get feedback on work in progress before full publication in a peer- reviewed journal. New communication technologies provide researchers with ad- ditional ways to distribute research results quickly and broadly. For example, raw data, computational models, the outputs of instruments,
Sharing o f R e s e a r c h R e s u l t s 31 The Race to Publish By any standard, the field of organocatalysis is highly competitive. The rapid growth of new research approaches in the last decade, com- bined with the short time frame in which experiments can be carried out (days or hours), fueled a frantic race to publish results ahead of others in the field. The case of Armando Cordova, a researcher at Stockholm University, brought the symptoms of that environment to light in a recent investigation by the university for research misconduct. The university determined that Dr. Cordova failed to cite other work properly and, instead, took credit for discoveries that were not his own; others in the field argue that the situation is more serious, more akin to fraud than ethical misconduct. As one news article noted, âThey say Cordova steals research ideas at con- ferences and then presents the ideas as his own by publishing the results of hasty and often poorly executed parallel experiments.âa In effect, he was able to appropriate othersâ ideas and get them into public view first by knowing of journals where he could publish more quickly. As C&E News recounted the case, Cordova countered that his behav- ior was appropriate and that he simply practiced ethics that he learned from his mentors during graduate school and his early research career. In responding to the university investigationâwhich required him to at- tend an ethics course and submit all future papers to his dean for review before submission to journalsâhe acknowledged a need to cite othersâ work better, but he argued that there will be a continuing competition to publish first. The university review has not ended the dispute. A continuing de- bate among organocatalysis researchers challenges the outcome and generates a broader discussion of the viability of community norms for ethical behavior in publication of experiments. Some conclude that the issues need to be addressed not just in the context of a specific university community. Rather, they argue that clearer international standards for acceptable competition among scientists in a given field are neededânot just for the sake of currently active scientists but also for the future prac- tices of students trained in those laboratories. For science, the cost of such competitive publishing is more than individual careers; it tends to diminish the quality of published results. It also reduces collaboration, creates a reluctance to share research results, and generally undermines the trust that has enabled scientists to constructively build on one anotherâs discoveries. aâWilliam G. Schulz, âGiving Proper Credit: Ethics Violations by a Chemist in Sweden High- light Scienceâs Unpreparedness to Deal with Misconductâ Chemical and Engineering News 85 (12):35-38.
32 On Being a S c i e n t i s t simulation tools, records of deliberations, and draft papers all can be posted online and accessed by anyone before any of these results have undergone peer review. To the extent that these new communication methods speed and broaden the dissemination and verification of results, they strengthen research. Science also benefits when more individuals have greater access to raw data for use in their own work. However, if these new ways of disseminating research results bypass traditional quality Publication Practices Andre, a young assistant professor, and two graduate students have been working on a series of related experiments for the past several years. Now it is time to write up the experiments for publication, but the students and Andre must first make an important decision. They could write a single paper with one first author that would describe the experiments in a comprehensive manner, or they could write two shorter, less-complete papers so that each student could be a first author. Andre favors the first option, arguing that a single publication in a more visible journal would better suit all of their purposes. This alternative also would help Andre, who faces a tenure decision in two years. Andreâs students, on the other hand, strongly suggest that two papers be prepared. They argue that one paper encompassing all the results would be too long and complex. They also say that a single paper might damage their career opportunities because they would not be able to point to a paper on which they were first authors. 1. How could Andre have anticipated this problem? And what sort of general guidelines could he have established for lab members? 2. If Andreâs laboratory or institution has no official policies covering multiple authorship and multiple papers from a single study, how should this issue be resolved? 3. How could Andre and the students draw on practices within their discipline to resolve this dispute? 4. If the students feel that their concerns are not being addressed, to whom should they turn? 5. What kind of laboratory or institutional policies could keep dis- putes like this from occurring? 6. If a single paper is published, how can the authors make clear to review committees and funding agencies their various roles and the importance of the paper?
Sharing o f R e s e a r c h R e s u l t s 33 control mechanisms, they risk weakening conventions that have served science well. In particular, peer review offers a valuable way of evaluating and improving the quality of scientific papers. Methods of communication that do not incorporate peer review or a comparable vetting process could reduce the reliability of scientific information. There are several reasons why researchers should refrain from making results public before those results have been peer reviewed. If a researcher publicizes a preliminary result that is later shown to be inaccurate or incorrect, considerable effort by researchers can be wasted and public trust in the scientific community can be un- dermined. If research results are made available to other researchers or to the public before publication in a journal, researchers need to use some kind of peer review process that may compensate for the lack of the formal journal process. Moreover, researchers should be cautious about posting anything (such as raw data or figures) to a publicly accessible Web site if they plan to publish the material in a peer-reviewed journal. Some journals consider disclosure of informa- tion on a website to be âprior publication,â which could disqualify the investigator from subsequently publishing the data more formally. Publication practices are susceptible to abuse. For example, re- searchers may be tempted to publish virtually the same research re- sults in two different places, although most journals and professional societies explicitly prohibit this practice. They also may publish their results in âleast publishable unitsââpapers that are just detailed enough to be published but do not give the full story of the research project described. These practices waste the resources and time of editors, reviewers, and readers and impose costs on the scientific enterprise. They also can be counterproductive if a researcher gains a reputation for publishing shoddy or incomplete work. Reflecting the importance of quality, some institutions and federal agencies have adopted policies that limit the number of papers that will be considered when an individual is evaluated for employment, promo- tion, or funding.
34 On Being a S c i e n t i s t Restrictions on Peer Review and the Flow of Scientific Information In some cases, scientific results cannot be freely disseminated be- cause doing so might pose risks to commercial interests, national security, human health, or other objectives. For example, a company may choose not to publish internally conducted research that could give it an edge in the marketplace. Or a government or university-based laboratory may not be able to publish studies involving pathogens that could be used as biological weapons or mathematical results related to cryptography. These and similar restrictions on publications are controversial and (widely) debated. Researchers working under such conditions may need to find alter- nate ways of exposing their work to professional scrutiny. For example, internal reviewers or properly structured visiting committees can examine proprietary or classified research while maintaining confidentiality. The publication of results from fundamental scientific research has generally not been restricted in the United States unless those results are deemed so critical to national security that they are classified. The most recent episodes stem from the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the subsequent anthrax incidents in Washington in 2001. The U.S. govern- ment adopted or considered measures to restrict access to an expanded range of information or materials, to increase the monitoring of foreign students and researchers, and to screen some publications for âsensitive information.â All of these steps reduce the traditional openness of scientific research and must continually be carefully weighed against the national security benefits they might produce.