The journal carries an article by Dr. Cutler and 20 other researchers in the United States, Canada and Spain reporting a long-sought technique for helping plants to grow with less water by activating the natural defenses that enable plants to survive during droughts. (Here's the Science article; here's a summary of the research.) Dr. Cutler, an assistant professor of plant cell biology at the University of California, Riverside, knew that the rush to be first in this area had previously led to some dubious publications (including papers that were subsequently retracted). So he took the unusual approach of identifying his rivals (by determining which researchers had ordered the same genetic strains from a public source) and then contacting them.
Reading the interview of Cutler over at AiE&S I noticed that commenter qaz put her/his finger right on a key issue:
I wonder if he'd have been so sanguine about this procedure if one of his rivals had contacted him first saying they'd like to publish his data and offered him a co-authorship for his trouble.
Yeah. From the way Dr. Cutler tells it on Janet's first post:
The background is this. After several years of work I found myself sitting on a major discovery in one of the most competitive fields in plant biology. "Competitive" in science is usually code for "cut throat", and can be associated with scientists who abuse their power to get ahead unfairly. I thought to myself -- what is the one thing that those "cut throat" types would not do in my situation -- because I really do not want to end up like them. Contacting people I might of scoop seemed like an interesting approach. ... I sent emails out to people who I determined were sitting on the same jackpot discovery as me, but I gathered that they didn't realize it. That got the ball rolling.
Right. So if you look at it from the standpoint of one of the Cutler lab's competitors they are being offered a chance to get in on a Science pub on something that they may not have even realized they had. Even if they did have something, their first assumption had to have been "Holy schmoly, the Cutler lab is ready to submit at any moment so we'll get scooped if we don't accept!". As another commenter at Janet's place, Neuro-conservative, pointed out:
Note that Cutler's lab got first and last authorship on the Science paper. For all intents and purposes, the other guys were scooped.
So the devil really is in the details here with respect to how far along the Cutler lab was, how collaborative the interactions were from the first contact between labs and how accurate the characterization that the collaborating labs didn't realize what they had. It could be the case that the labs all really did start from a nascent idea of Cutler's and build substantively forward. Or, the Cutler lab might have been essentially ready and able to go it alone and generously offered to bring along some competitors who otherwise would have been really screwed.
Or....a really, really cynical person might see this as a brilliant power move to ensure that you most-likely competitors would not be trying to scoop you nor even be able to edge their way into one of those lame co-publication games.
I would really like to hear the interviews with the competing labs that Cutler got to contribute..as well as those who took a pass on the offer.