It is the moment that most scientists fear: You learn that your competitors have done similar experiments to those that have occupied the last years of your life, and have published the results before you. In the jargon of research, you have been scooped.
In science, there are few prizes for second place. Your chances of publishing your own work are now limited, since most major scientific journals put a premium on “novelty.” That is, they only want to publish things that are new, and they’ll often reject papers whose discoveries have already appeared elsewhere. For the scooper, glory. For the scoopee, heartbreak, and the tedium of revisiting past experiments to somehow make them seem fresh.
“You end up investing yet more time and resources into what was essentially a fully formed research story ready to be shared with the world,” says Leon Van Eck from Augsburg University. “It can be very demotivating. It’s a feeling of being trapped in a hamster wheel, churning out data, none of which gets submitted quite in time to qualify as novel.”
Now, some journals are taking a stand. This Monday, the editors of PLOS Biology—the flagship journal of Public Library of Science, a nonprofit publisher—published an editorial saying that they are now willing to publish papers that were scooped less than six months ago. And in a clever bit of rebranding, they’re abandoning the word “scooped” altogether in favor of calling these “complementary” papers. “Just as summiting Everest second is still an incredible achievement, so too, we believe, is the scientific research resulting from a group who have (perhaps inadvertently) replicated the important findings of another group,” the editors wrote.