You know how waving the word "integrity" around in a discussion of the quotidian practice of science works on Your Humble Narrator, right Dear Reader?
well, one @dr_beckie mused:
tweeting for networking (baby limits conference attendance), but snr colleague warned against talking to openly about my research (1/2)
in such an open forum, is it really so naive to have faith in scientific integrity? (2/2)
a little prodding brought forth this revelation:
@drugmonkeyblog not fear it would be disappointment. Integrity is acknowledging input ie the chat in the pub that gave you initial idea.
As I observed, her Acknowledgement sections must be a wonder to behold. Perhaps the first ever need for Supplemental Acknowledgements?
Now of course I cannot possibly know the full subtlety of dr_beckie's views on scientific priority and the "integrity" of differing thresholds for formal acknowledgement of input from scientific peers. But I do know there is an awful lot of wackaloon delusion out there about these issues.
So let me say this. A failure to appreciate that your sub(sub, sub)field of science is overladen with bushels of extremely smart, well trained and motivated individuals who are reading the exact same published literature that you are is not evidence of a lack of "integrity" in the field. If you had some brilliant idea or synthesis, odds are very good that someone else has the exact same idea.
This is why I take an exceptionally skeptical view of claims that so-and-so "stole" the ideas of some other scientist.
I am not saying intellectual theft doesn't occur in science. I am confident it does. Someone taking the ideas expressed by another, that they have not yet arrived at, and managing to reach the threshold of academic credit (a paper authorship, usually) with that idea without properly crediting the original person. Somewhere below this is a vast, vast territory of normal scientific operation in which "theft" is not really appropriate.
Chats in the pub, discussions at meeting presentations and thoughts expressed at lab meeting do not all deserve formal Acknowledgement. If these roots of a scientific paper were accurately recorded, I'm not kidding that the Acknowledgement section would go on for pages. Clearly, this section is not intended to cover all possible casual interactions that led up to the clicks in your brain that crystallized into a scientific Idea. There is a threshold.
I guarantee you that there are almost as many opinions about this precise threshold as their are scientists who are publishing. Multiplied by two, in fact, because I feel confident that any given scientist will have a different standard for crediting some other loser colleague versus when they see it appropriate that their own brilliant thoughts receive proper attribution!
Now we come around to the original Twitt and @dr_beckie's concern that discussing her work online involves concerns about scientific integrity when it comes to proper acknowledgement, presumably, of her brilliant 140 character contributions to her subfield. Acknowledgement, one assumes, in published papers down the road.
I am not seeing where there is any specific concern. All that differs here is the potential size of the audience...but recall that really it is only participants in a scientific subfield that matter. So you could have made the observation at a meeting during the question period. Or at your poster to several meeting attendees. Most of the time a normal scientist is not looking around the meeting room trying to gauge the "integrity" of some 200 or 500 scientists before they ask their question or make their observation. Each and every one of these people who hear you might, if the notion strikes them, communicate your brilliance to other scientists who didn't happen to be in attendance for some reason. You have no control over this. Most of us rely, as @dr_beckie would have it, on the normal practices and "integrity" of our fields in these situations.
Furthermore, many of us realize the fundamental reality of science priority and scientific ideas. It doesn't matter who has the idea. What matters is who can conduct the experiments, interpret the data and publish the paper. This is the way science is credited. By. Producing.
Getting into he said/she said over who came up with an idea first? Nearly a complete waste of time. If you are really paranoid about these matters? STFU! Don't talk to anyone about "your" ideas. Fine. Whatever. But don't come whining around about "integrity" when the off-hand remark you made in the pub* seems to be a fundamental building block of a paper that appears a year later with the author lines including one of your drinking buddies!
Let me just note here that I've been around the block a few times myself. There are published papers out there where I got screwed out of an authorship (and even Acknowledgement) in a manner anyone at all would admit showed a lack of integrity. It is going to happen now and again. I deal. I move on. Against this background, a lack of "We'd really like to thank DrugMonkey for his random spewing at the pub one night late at the CPDD annual meeting" kinda pales. It isn't like your appearance in the "Acknowledgement" section carries any sort of weight or would be put on your CV or tenure package, right**?
For full disclosure, I'm sure I've published papers that someone else thinks should have included an Acknowledgement of their brilliant input. I know for a certain fact that a particular colleague of mine is pouty*** about not being an author on one particular paper. This person's position is that s/he expressed the "idea" before I did. Of course I remember the event quite clearly and this person is high as a kite...it was my idea. But guess what? Either of us could very well have said it out loud first. Easily. It was an obvious thing to do. I just said it first, outloud and with that particular person in hearing's distance. It is pathetic for me to claim that the idea was a result of my unique brilliance.
Now as chance would have it I was the one who actually did the study and published it; my colleague did not. I will note that this colleague and I probably talked about dozens of ideas that could have been, later became or may yet become papers back in the day. Hell, we still talk about many ideas that could/may/will become papers.
Back to Twitter.
It strikes me that there is one nasty little implication here, one that I think pervades a lot of the rationale of these OpenScience and WeNeedCreditForBlogging!!!11!! types. They are trying to get credit for "having the idea" when they do not deserve it and should not deserve it. I don't blog about actual science all that much but I've done it now and then. I'm pretty sure in a handful of such posts I've made observations or expressed curiosity about matters that could possibly be addressed in the field by a publication or two. Just like I've expressed observations or curiosity, IRL, in 1) poster sessions, 2) platform presentations, 3) shooting the shit with colleagues, 4) grant reviews, 5) paper reviews, 6) lab meetings and other places.
I don't expect credit. I do not assume as a default that papers that come out later that can be six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon connected to my blathering must have stolen my ideas. It is nice to receive an Acknowledgement if the authors believe it is appropriate. Sure. Everyone loves that. But I'm not on the barricades screaming about "integrity" if it doesn't happen.
Life is too short.
And I have science to publish.
*for all you know, the drinking buddies are all "Oh shit, I better k3rn my postdoc! Some lame-brain in doc_beckie's group finally thought up the thought we've been working on for six months....we're gonna get scooped!!!"
**Please tell me I'm right.
***This is not infrequently in a context in which this person may be trying to get me to buy the next round, FWIW.