A lesson on Supplemental Materials

Feb 24 2015 Published by under Science Publication, Scientific Publication

Good! That's my response. It is fantastic if someone can publish a paper on stuff that was essentially hidden in the Supplementary Materials of some other paper. 

This is great news. 

23 responses so far

  • Yes. And in a lot of fields (such as genomics), data reuse by other groups is kind of the *goal*. You shouldn't think you "own" your data.

  • odyssey says:

    Hmmmm, maybe @ChemStructBiol was complaining that a reviewer made him include the data in supplementary material and that essentially prevented him from publishing another paper?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Gotta break a few eggs, Od?

    But yes, that sucks for the authors if this is the case. They should send the other paper to the editors and point out how it cost them another real paper.

  • dsks says:

    Any person who reviews a paper and asks for extra experiments to be included in the supplemental section needs to be kicked out of the reviewers pool no matter what the JIF. If what you're asking for is not sufficiently critical to the conclusions of the paper that it does not need to be included in the main manuscript, then you shouldn't be bloody well asking for it. Period.

    Someone might respond, "But what about an important control experiment!!??". Well, one could reasonably say that a paper lacking an important control experiment should probably be getting a rejection outright. But as it is, if one is merely requesting supplemental control experiments to support the validity of data presented in the main body, then it's highly unlikely that data is publishable in its own right. In short, if folk are able to publish the sort of data that ends up in the supplemental section of some glamour rag - and let's face it, these are the buggers largely responsible for this obnoxious trend - then there are editors and reviewers out there that are doing a serious disservice to the research community. Not least of which to the poor bloody postdocs whose blood, sweat and tears ends up relegated to the armpit of some glam rags supplmental .pdf dump for the sake of a middle authorship.

    / rant

  • qaz says:

    Did the other paper cite @chemstructbio for their initial finding? If yes, then what's the problem? Replication is good.

    But if they didn't, then this is another example of supplemental materials not being "real", which IMO is a major problem.

  • drugmonkey says:

    the conclusions of the paper that it does not need to be included in the main manuscript, then you shouldn't be bloody well asking for it. Period.

    Preach.

  • toto says:

    Wait. I'm having a non-native-speaker moment here.

    Do people actually do that? As in, replicate figures from someone else' supplementary materials, and then publish that as their own stuff?

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    @Toto - that would be outrageous.

    What's probably happening here is someone who is doing the same kind of work was able to publish their data as a separate study while the other group lost out on that second paper despite having similar data because they had to include all that data in supplementary material on their first paper.

    Referring to Jonathan Badger's comment, people routinely use sequencing data sets from the public domain to analyze, re-analyze and publish. This is legit.

  • E rook says:

    Toto- "replicate," in this usage, means to repeat the same experiment in your own lab, get results that match the conclusion of the originally published experiment (maybe not exactly the same, but same direction/effect). Within a lab, you might replicate an experiment a few times yourself before publishing the results (eg, with different people doing the same experiment).

  • chemstructbio says:

    I’m complaning about the “system", as well as a personal experience. No reference to our paper, but it’s not surprising—our data (not genomics data) were hidden in supplemental material. The experience will certainly change my publishing philosophy going forward.

  • drugmonkey says:

    How so? What can be done about this?

    One strategy is to include it as the seed for the next paper. Not sure if you need to seek permission from publisher but I've never had one refuse .... And they only own the exact figure published anyway, not the data, so you can re-present it.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Did you at least beat them on JIF points?

  • qaz says:

    DM: "How so? What can be done about this?"

    We need to make supplemental material be delivered along with the original article for all journals. The problem is not online vs in-print but the fact that getting to supplemental material takes extra clicks that no one does. This is something that can be changed!

    Most people read articles by downloading them. If the supplemental material was included with the PDF (electrons are cheap!), then people would have no excuse for not seeing it. (At least no more than missing figure 26 of one of those old JNeurophys articles, but that's on them not us.)

    Here's an interesting question: Is supplemental material included in PubMedCentral?

  • eeke says:

    @ qaz - some journals already do this. I had the same thing happen to me. Results published as supplementary material in a glamour mag ended up being published by someone else a DECADE later. We were not cited. As a reviewer, I've seen this frequently, where data are presented that I am aware are already published elsewhere, and not just as supplementary materials. It seems that nobody reads anything anymore and don't even bother with pubmed searches. What happened to scholarship? It's fucking pathetic.

  • Ola says:

    The down side (as has happened to us) is when reviewers f*** you over by demanding stuff in the supplement, then a year later you see the exact same experiment in a waaaay better journal (often the one that your paper was rejected from due to nasty reviews). The upside is, at least now you can identify the a-hole reviewer and figure out a way to screw them over next time. Ain't karma a bitch.

  • It seems that nobody reads anything anymore and don't even bother with pubmed searches. What happened to scholarship? It's fucking pathetic.

    I haven't read a paper in years. I just get my trainees to explain the important ones to me.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Pubmed is for wimps. If you're really hardcore, you immediately know that an important new result in your field has been published because you sense a disturbance in the Force.

  • drugmonkey says:

    eeke- the GlamourGame requires novelty so therefore authors are under tremendous pressure to pretend everything is brand new. So what do we expect?

  • AcademicLurker says:

    The problem is not online vs in-print but the fact that getting to supplemental material takes extra clicks that no one does.

    PNAS now has a one-click Article-Plus-SI option. Maybe it's the beginning of a trend.

  • eeke says:

    DM - you misunderstood the comment. Our original article was in a glamour mag. The later article (publishing what we had as supplementary material) was not.

  • drugmonkey says:

    My point is that we are now all taken over by this idea that priority is absolutely the most important thing. Consequently, everyone is motivated to be as ignorant of the literature as possible.

  • Davis Sharp says:

    @chemstructbio: go with the backhanded compliment.

    "Congratulations on your paper. It confirms what we found in our (Journal) paper in (year). I didn't think anyone was still working on that."

  • MF says:

    I have also been in situations where I cannot obtain supplementary, no matter how hard I try (in some journals, supplementary portion is not available through the interlibrary loan).

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