Second Thought on Glamour Pr33p P33ple

Feb 18 2016 Published by under Conduct of Science, Science Publication

If establishing the priority of scientific observations or findings is so important, another thing these people should be doing, tomorrow, is to cite conference abstracts in their papers.

It was not so long ago in the neurosciences that citations of Society for Neuroscience Abstracts would appear in archival reports.

We can return to this and it would go a long way towards documenting the chronology (I am working up an antipathy to "priority", folks) of an area of scientific work.

13 responses so far

  • shrew says:

    Man, I cite conference abstracts regularly. Sometimes even of my competitors if they showed something important! (Which shows that I am #riffraff.)

  • Luminiferous æther says:

    "If establishing the priority of scientific observations or findings is so important..."

    "I am working up an antipathy to "priority", folks"

    Are you not aware of the shit storm around CRISPR over who did what first? One can't make an umbrella statement about this given the huge implications that can result depending on area of work.

  • jmz4 says:

    ^ but it's also not good to base systems around the exceptional cases, which CRISPR clearly represents.

  • Philapodia says:

    What the fuckke is "Pr33p P33ple" supposed to mean? Is this a thing on the Twitter?

  • Luminiferous æther says:

    ^ what system? Neuroscience system? Tool-making system? Molecular biology system? That's exactly my point when I say umbrella statement.

  • Luminiferous æther says:

    @jmz4 - And while we are talking about exceptions, with the unprecedented break-neck speed at which innovation is happening across all fields of science and technology combined with increasingly inter-disciplinary collaborations, don't be surprised if CRISPR like cases become much more common. This 20th century mentality does not apply to today's world.

  • jmz4 says:

    Good point. I guess by "System" I really meant community standards on what is considered sufficient to demonstrate principal involvement in the genesis of a line of inquiry or technical achievement. Currently, the system requires you be the first to publish on a finding. Which is dumb. But allowing non-peer reviewed literature to usurp that role would be worse.
    As for the changes going forward, I'd really like to see some deconstruction of the myth of the brilliant inventor/iconoclast scientist. Any scientific achievement rests on the the foundations of those that came before, but the way we award prizes and grants largely neglects this fact.
    Actually, that famous Newton quote, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants" is a fantastic demonstration of our need to lionize an individual over a collective process. Variations of that phrase have been used for almost a millenia, and yet we attribute the sentiment to one man.

  • New PI says:

    I don't know how things work at SfN, but in my field, conference abstracts do not include sufficient detail to establish a result in a deeply convincing way. They're closer to claims. With preprints, every reader has the skeptical eye of a reviewer (or should), and there is enough evidence in the manuscript for a result to be established, in theory.

    Perhaps I'm jaded, but I see too much crap make it through peer review to be comfortable using peer review as a reliable filter. There's a manuscript on a preprint server now that uses rigorous methods to take down a CNS paper, sloppily and hastily done, that has been wasting people's time for years. It benefits science to have these results accessible now.

  • MoBio says:

    @DM: a bit from an intellectual property perspective (IP)
    From an IP any 'public' presentation of the findings is a disclosure (includes abstracts, poster presentations, talks, blogs, twitter and so on).

    In patent litigations in which I was an expert witness photographs of posters have been presented to demonstrate 'prior art'.

    Thus in CRISPR if anyone presented the notion that CRISPR could be used to edit mammalian genomes prior to the submission of the first patent this could, for instance, invalidate many of the patents (we'll see when this gets to patent court).

    Also, as the patent law now stands 'first to file' is the standard--though this wasn't the standard with the initial CRISPR patents.

    Going forward, this will likely mean that all accessible media (social, google and so on) will be fair game.

    For scientific claims of priority I think there is no consensus in the field. I've never seen that the Nobel committee (for instance) considers abstracts as 'first report' though with Eric Betzig's recent Nobel a relatively obscure initial paper was cited for the first conceptualization of super-resolution microscopy.

    We live in interesting times and it will be fascinating to see how this all works out going forward.

  • AcademicLurker says:


    A few years ago I read The Infinity Puzzle, which is a kind of insider's history of the development of the Standard Model in particle physics (the Higgs boson & etc.). It was fascinating to read about the maneuvering to establish priority that went on once it was realized that certain theoretical predictions had become Nobel-worthy. One person's claim was based on a publication in an obscure volume of conference proceedings that had gone unread by just about anyone for years (that person actually did end up sharing the Nobel).

  • Plenum says:

    I've seen countless conference abstracts that never materialized to publications. It isn't clear to me why should someone should be rewarded for a conference abstract where the results can't be properly reviewed and digested, and full data isn't broadly disseminated to the broader research community. Where do you draw the line on which conferences are acceptable? What about an Aegean Conference where only the richest labs can attend? Or a departmental conference that is technically open to the public but no one knows about?

  • MoBio says:

    @AL: thanks--I'll look into this and it sounds like fascinating reading.

    So there you go, the Swedes (at least) read abstracts!

  • drugmonkey says:

    Plenum- why should someone be rewarded (as you put it) for a pre-print that has not been through the tempering fires of peer review?

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