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Scoop or get scooped: journal rejects ‘first to publish’ mentality

Competing researchers don’t usually co-author discussion papers – unless, perhaps, they’re discussing their rivalry. Such is the case with Jacob Corn and Jin-Soo Kim.

On Monday, the genome editing researchers (from the University of California, Berkeley and Seoul National University respectively), took to PLOS Biology to talk about how the journal’s new complementary research policy affected them.

Rather than simply trading theoretical words, they illustrated them, based on their real life ‘scooper’ and ‘scoopee’ experiences.

Corn relayed how he was ‘nightmarishly’ thwarted by Kim, then saved by PLOS:

…On February 21, 2018, the text of the paper was finished, and we were putting on the final touches. I emailed a cover letter and figures to the editor at PLOS Biology to gauge their interest and was gratified to get a positive response. Two days later, I was sitting in the Oakland International Airport when a beautiful paper from Jin-Soo Kim’s lab in South Korea that anticipated our own work was published…

…I assumed that the work would now be relegated to languish in a drawer in my lab. That’s when the editor informed me of PLOS Biology’s new “complementary research” policy. On February 26, 2018, we submitted our paper to PLOS Biology

PLOS Biology‘s policy provides that manuscripts that confirm or extend the findings of a recently published paper remain eligible for inclusion in the journal. Its editors argue that ‘scooped’ works are valuable: they can act as, and indeed, are preferable to regular replication studies, as they are inadvertent, and therefore, potentially purer.

Corn and Kim support this assertion. Corn speaks of the policy as one solution to the “reproducibility” crisis in science (the fact that replication studies aren’t seen as desirable by researchers). He admits he is guilty of not seeking to merely reproduce others’ work.

“While my lab has personally experienced the frustration of finding that a paper doesn’t hold up, this has always been accidental rather than part of a concerted effort at reproduction,” he wrote.

While this time, he was the scooper, Kim, too, has experienced the deep pain of being scooped. “I … will never forget those moments, which still hurt,” he confided, adding that this can be a career-killer.

He sees PLOS Biology‘s new policy as a win-win. Aside from aiding the reproducibility crisis, he thinks it also benefits the scooper: “It is likely that our work [which was published in Genome Research] will get additional attention when Jacob’s paper, in which they kindly discuss and cite our work, is published.”

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