Don’t discuss papers you get to review with your lab group!

One of the things about disagreement, particularly in the Midwest, I think, is that it comes as much from what is not said as from what is said. In this case, I think the consensus is that it is NOT all right to discuss with your lab group a paper you got to review. I get this partly from direct comments, but mostly from a failure to address this part of the question. It is also NOT all right to pass the paper to a grad student or post-doc to review, or co-review, unless you have prior permission from the editor, according to our commenters.

I think it is probably also not a good idea to photograph posters, unless you have explicit permission. It is allowed to take the little flyers for their work that some people put out. This also extends to photographing during talks. I have to wonder if you are a really good note-taker, if that is OK. I think it is.

We tread a thin line between wanting to share and publicize our information, yet keeping the space to develop ideas on our own. Publishing is the dividing line, not talking about material, or seeing it in the review process, or in grant proposals. It is great to hear new ideas at meetings, though most of us don’t keep up with any one person enough to not be excited also by material that has already been published.

A few recent talks I have given have been videotaped and copied, right down to the slides. Each time I have had to ask that a slide or two be eliminated to not compromise a student’s work.  I suppose we could either give talks of all published material under those circumstances, or give mainly published talks, with a little frosting of new information.

New ideas are both cheap, seldom good, and evanescently delicious, to be treasured. I’m convinced that sharing and building helps the best ones blossom. So I hope people will keep sharing their newest work in discussions and meetings.  I won’t bring papers under review to lab meeting again!

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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One Response to Don’t discuss papers you get to review with your lab group!

  1. I agree with the previous comments that it violates the agreement between editor and reviewer to pass on the text or ideas from a paper that is under review.

    That being sad, however, I do think it would be desirable to be able to discuss new ideas, talks and papers under review not only with the lab, but also within the wider community before final publication.

    As far as I understand, your concerns relate mainly to attribution, i.e. that someone could steal ideas when they are made public in some way. I just want to point out that in the mathematical and physical sciences, which are in my experience way more competitive regarding new ideas, this is solved by uploading a paper to the arXiv at the point at which you are willing to speak about it. This way, ideas and new data are immediately available, attributable and citable, and it’s opt-in in the sense that you can decide at which point you are willing to make a result public (the most common time would be at first submission).

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