Post-publication priority ploy

Mar 25 2016 Published by under Academics, Conduct of Science

Don't do this. Ever.

I "think" of doing experiments all the time. As do you, Dear Reader. Dreaming up an experiment is no particular feat for a scientist who has been in the business for awhile. The trick is accomplishing and publishing the study.

If you haven't done that, then it just looks silly to go around telling people you thought of doing the work they just published.

H/t: You know who you are dude.

47 responses so far

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Hahahahah! What a pathetic loser!

  • Dave says:

    I thought about saying that....

  • The Other Dave says:

    Ha ha. I actually *did* those experiments, published them in Nature, got a Nobel prize, but then felt bad that my fame might be ruining the career opportunities for lesser minds like Bjorn. So I built a time machine, went back, whispered the idea into Bjorn's ear while he slept, and busied myself with other things. Damn guy didn't even act on the idea I gave him.

  • Ola says:

    Friday afternoon game.... think of an annoying fuck-tard in science that you'd like to put in a room with a bunch of other equally annoying fuck-tards, and the room is infused with Ted Trump's farts. My room so far has:

    Bjorn Brembs
    Ethan Perlstein
    Martin Shkreli
    GM from the comments threads here

    Bonus round - which OA wackaloon superhero should rescue them from the room?

  • duke of neural says:

    Sounds like a compliment though. "I agree this is a good experiment."

    Unless the "went for >" means "but then I did greater experiments instead."

  • odyssey says:

    For the record I thought of that experiment before all of you.

  • drugmonkey says:

    duke of neural-

    Compliment: "What a great paper! Those experiments are coolio!"

    Post-publication priority ploy: "I thought about doing those awesome experiments before you did."

  • Pinko Punko says:

    DM, you don't like that guy, and I can see why you would shade him on this. I think there is time and place for these types of comments, but I think they can be framed in a more complimentary way towards the peeps that got it done. That said, twitter precludes a lot of nuance, so easy to slam. Like "What a cool paper! Similar thoughts had crossed my mind before- you guys got it done. Really excited to see this"- this seems reasonable?

  • The Other Dave says:


    Oh, I'm going to do it...

    I remember in the 90s when you weren't cool unless you had a biotech startup on the side. Now you have to be a self-promoting ass with a pop-science book or two on Amazon, or at least a self-agrandizing website.

  • Dusanbe says:

    I took it as a compliment. This sort of "great minds" bs is the only type of comment approaching a compliment that narcissists ever dish out, and they sincerely believe it is an awesome compliment.

  • Grumble says:

    I thought about doing that experiment waaaaaaaaay before any of you or your grandparents were even born, but I discarded the idea immediately because I realized I just don't care about fruit flies.

  • drugmonkey says:


    I am having trouble seeing where commenting that you thought of it first is anything other than a passive aggressive dick move. I see plenty of Twitts about papers just saying "great paper, congrats guys!".

  • zb says:

    I was going to give the guy a break -- in speaking his compliment poorly. I've had that thought before -- "Wow, you guys actually did the experiment I dreamed of long ago", precisely because I think doing the experiment is an actual accomplishment, while dreams are just fun.

    But then I clicked on his web page and found "A root of language in fruit flies." I'll admit to being a species chauvinist, but, what struck me is that I couldn't tell what paper actually found the root on reading the PR.

    And now, I understand a little bit of the worry of archives -- "The unintended consequences of journal rank suggest abandoning journal publishing in favor of a modern scholarly communication system." is a dangerous precedent when self-aggrandizing press releases become the method of communicating science.

    I don't think the trend towards non-curated information is going to stop, that it started when information was disconnected from paper, and that we're just going to see the phenomenon grow. So that might be an argument for universities/libraries/ to start moderating the process of data collaboration/archives/. . . . rather than trying to stop it.

  • odyssey says:

    Grumble, I thought of that experiment before those "ancient anxiety pathways" had even evolved. Back then fruit flies had huge pointy teeth and zero fucks to give.

  • jmz4 says:

    Seriously, folks. I've got the best ideas. Big, beautiful, classy, really yuge ideas.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Aren't all of you just figments of my imagination anyway? You're all going to fade away later tonight when I get drunk and pass out.

  • k elliott says:


    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!. Your comment is the best!

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, CAN'T STOP LAUGHING thinking of you drunk and passing out!.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    My feeling was more in line that those words could be inapt way to say "I've been interested in this exact topic- therefore am especially excited to see these experiments" versus generic interest.

  • Rheophile says:

    I vote for "inapt compliment" too. I have certainly said worse things off-the-cuff, like, "I'm so glad someone finally got around to doing that," without having any intention of stealing credit or downplaying the result. (I'm trying to get better...)

  • L Kiswa says:

    Off topic. I've been wondering about this for the last few days, and since I am not on the Twitter, thought this blog would be a good place to ask...

    We submitted a manuscript to a journal (non-glam, society journal, since you asked) a little over a month ago. The reviews came back last week, very positive, and only minor points to address. Since submitting, we have conducted a pilot experiment to extend the work presented in this paper -- these are great preliminary data for proposals. However, on their own, the results of the pilot experiment would not be suitable for a stand-alone publication. We likely won't have a chance to follow up with a full blown experiment without grant money.

    We are considering asking the Editor if the journal will allow us to add the new pilot experiments to the manuscript when we submit the revision. Our thought is that the data would strengthen the paper, and also provide an opportunity for the student conducting the pilot experiments to get credit for the work.

    So my question -- is it unethical to include more data (not requested by reviewers) in the submission of a revised manuscript? Other thoughts we should consider?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Of course that isn't unethical. Why would it be?

  • jmz4 says:

    "So my question -- is it unethical to include more data (not requested by reviewers) in the submission of a revised manuscript? Other thoughts we should consider?"
    It's a little odd, since generally people try to parse their data into as many publications as possible, but it's definitely not unethical. Aren't you worried it will lengthen the review time?

  • L Kiswa says:

    "Aren't you worried it will lengthen the review time?"

    Definitely a risk, but leaning towards this. The data would provide additional support of the hypothesis. If not included here, I am struggling to see how it may add to other pubs in future. In all honesty, we were originally hoping to have this pilot data ready in time for first submission. We didn't and felt the paper was strong enough as is, and so submitted. Submission timing was important with future grant deadlines in mind/student graduating soon.

    From a grant strategy perspective, if published, I'd be able to point to the pub for as evidence that we have the technique our toolbox (new technique for us). The added risk of more Q's on the second revision are worth the trouble here.

    "Of course that isn't unethical. Why would it be?"

    Good question. I have always viewed (without good reason, it appears) the revision process as answering the reviewer critique, and not as an open opportunity to fill out the manuscript. I worry about making a habit of sending in a paper to a journal to "check" if they will view favorably, knowing full well I'll have more data in a few weeks, if the additional data is requested. Why not wait the few weeks?

    Sounds like I might be overthinking this...

  • drugmonkey says:

    In a climate in which reviewer demands for more data are common...I am not seeing any problem here whatsoever.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Is the idea here that you have already softened them up with the good stuff and now that the lean is in your direction the additional, shakier data (you called it pilot data?) gets past more easily?

  • L Kiswa says:

    That's not the play I had in mind, but I fear it may come across as such. Hence the ethics concern.

    We tested the hypothesis using model A -- results were great. We were pretty confident paper would go through with the data we had. Following discussions with collabs at meetings, it was becoming clear that testing hypothesis on improved model B would increase significance/impact of results. So we started putting together model B. We've got some pilot data (i.e. low n) with model B, and results complement those with A. Also establishing model B in lab = good for grants. It seems the options are:

    1- publish data we have with model A, limit model B results for use as prelim data fodder in next few R01s. Wait for more \(

    2- publish data we have with model A + model B (whatever limited data we have). Paper would be clear that model B data is preliminary and would need to be looked at more extensively in future. Use in grants as prelim data.

    I am very comfortable with 1, but the downside is the data with model B never makes it to print if we don't get the \) and shift focus to other stuff.

  • Dusanbe says:

    No problem Kiswa. I've done it many times. The goal is to communicate and share your findings. Only downside is reviewers getting annoyed, but editor may not even send it back for review.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Two possibilities: (1) Brembs is a self-aggrandizing narcissist with delusions of scientific grandeur pissing on a fire hydrant after smelling someone else's piss on it; (2) Brembs is a productive behavioral geneticist giving a genuine, but perhaps awkward, compliment to a new paper he considers a valuable contribution to the field.

    Those in this thread who think (2) is conceivable: Go skim his blog, twitter feed, and list of peer-reviewed original research manuscripts, and come back and let us know if you still think that's credible.

  • gingerest says:

    (The greater-than sign in the tweet means "continued", not "greater than." He finished the thought with "other projects instead. Good stuff! Congrats! Love it!" Let's not make him out worse than he is.)

  • Established PI says:

    @L Kiswa I don't know your field, but option 1 seems far preferable to me. You submitted a paper you thought comprised a nice piece of work and the reviewers agreed. If you address the minor points, your paper will almost surely be accepted. Excellent outcome. Adding more results could open a can of worms - what if they have issues with it? And saving the results for your grant application is a plus - it shows you have continued to work on the project and that you have new and interesting results. The fact that they are preliminary is less of in issue in grant review than it is in a paper. If you are worried that you will never get funded and never write up the other results, write up a short paper and post it as a preprint. That will put it out there. But I hope you get your grant and get to build upon the work.

  • jojo says:

    people on twitter get so worked up about the littlest things...

  • Unlike the great DM, I don't often see the potential experiments we discuss in our labmeetings a few months later published in a journal. So this one time, when it happened, I replied to a colleague I know personally in a single sentence on Twitter that by the time he was already doing the experiments, we were also thinking along those same lines. I was glad we didn't actually do the experiments, but went in a different direction, as he was well ahead of us anyway, apparently.

    Of course, I tried to convey this, for me, rare and fortuitous event in a short reply-tweet, after Adam had alerted me to his tweet, while the great DM continues to humble me with an entire blog post on how he always thinks of great experiments that then get published in the highest ranking journals. Thanks for keeping me in my low spot where I belong, DM! Hoping to receive further such humbling treatment from you in the future, as always.

  • Grumble says:

    Here's what I don't understand: Why would anyone who wants to convey an intelligent thought to someone else choose a format with a limitation of 140 characters? This is the reason why I neither read tweets nor tweet myself. Twitter might be good for organizing an impromptu protest, but for anything involving ideas and justification at an intellectual level, it is insufficient. It just invites one misunderstanding after another. There is enough of absurdity in the world without adding the inanity of twitter.

  • shrew says:

    Twitter is not the enemy here, Grumble. It does not render those who are able to express themselves in a reasoned and enjoyable manner suddenly unable to type two words without appearing assy.

    Having more characters would not have helped him appear less condescending. I know this from personal experience, for I myself have been so lucky as to have Brembs attend one of my recent posters.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Björn: You have to look at this as a social experiment. We can learn from it. And, if you wish to avoid it happening in the future, you could modify your behavior accordingly.

    A good first step in this direction: Instead of repaying DM with insults (whether he deserved them or not), you could have come here to say something like...

    "Wow. Sorry if that twitter came across badly. I meant to congratulate a colleague, not draw attention toward myself. Please ignore my twitter and go read his excellent paper!"

    This would have helped achieve your original purpose, made DM look like a jerk, and redeemed yourself on the internet.

    But back to the original analysis: WHY did your tweet make you sound like an ass?

    My personal favorite hypothesis is that the tweet -- regardless of your intention -- seemed an effort to re-direct attention from your colleague back to yourself. Only you can answer whether you honestly meant to direct more attention to your colleague, or to yourself. Maybe your intention at the time is not even known consciously to yourself. But suffice to say that it is always best to err on the side of being humble. That said, we also work in a hyper-competitive environment where we all have to be willing to 'blow our own horn' when appropriate. So when is appropriate? I don't know all the situations, but I think they're definitely restricted to a subset of the times when we've actually accomplished something admirable. In the case we're discussing here, you hadn't actually accomplished anything. Thus you really had nothing to brag about and therefore it was a mistake to draw any attention to yourself. In the future, you should consider your tweets to be spotlights. Don't shine the spotlight where you don't want people to look. You don't want people to look at your own lack of accomplishment, relative to others.

    So... next time, to compliment friends: Maybe tweet a nice description of an experiment they did that you thought was particularly clever. Or say why you thought there study nicely clarified an extant problem. You will look like someone who is smart and recognizes and publicizes good science, rather than someone who just wants attention too. I'm sure that others here can offer better suggestions. I think most people here are nicer than me.

    And when you do have something to be proud of, go ahead and tweet about it. Maybe say: "Hey everyone, we're really proud of our new paper, where we showed... I'd be honored for you to check it out, let me know what you think! http:/...."

    Does that make sense? Does anyone else here agree with me? Or am I just acting like a condescending asshat?

  • TOOD says:

    condescending asshat

  • TOOD says:

    ding ding ding. condescending asshat.

  • jmz4 says:


  • Philapodia says:


    point and match

  • ecologist says:

    You guys seem massively over-sensitive. It's amusing in a puzzling sort of way. If I got a tweet like that, it would appear as nothing but positive, especially the "Good stuff! Congrats! Love it!" part. I would really appreciate the "I thought about such things, but never did anything about it" part too, especially if it was coming from someone I know personally (apparently the case here). And if this seems like an attempt to establish priority, you've got it backwards. When you say "I thought about this topic but didn't do anything about it" you are surrendering priority, not claiming it.

  • Grumble says:

    "Twitter is not the enemy here, Grumble. It does not render those who are able to express themselves in a reasoned and enjoyable manner suddenly unable to type two words without appearing assy."

    Sure. There are lots of things Brembs could have said in 140 characters that would have come across as less "assy." But there is also a lot of grey area. The less room you have to explain yourself, the greater the chances of misunderstanding. That is why so many people get into trouble with twitter. They tweet something that seems eminently reasonable at the time, but the short format trips them up and it comes across as something they didn't quite intend.

    I'm not defending Brembs; I could hardly care less about what he tweets or thinks. I'm simply pointing out that twitter is, by its very nature, silly, and so is making a fuss over someone's one-off tweets.

    Short format statements
    Twisting through the internet
    Make authors morons

  • Philapodia says:

    Grant writing is hard
    twelve pages to polish turd
    Reviewer three sucks

  • jmz4 says:

    Something got messed up in the posting order, I was agreeing with The other dave, not T00d

  • The Other Dave says:

    My advice should have included: "Be nice, or be anonymous".

  • damit says:

    Brembs...dude you are nuts.
    Probably don't even format your references according to DM's standards!

  • damit says:

    Brembs...dude you are nuts.
    Probably don't even format your references according to DM's standards!

  • Grumble says:

    Hör auf damit! Einmal reicht.

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