Monday, March 8, 2010

Undead papers

Okay, so what do y'all do when a paper becomes undead? We all have work that stopped, for one reason or another, but really needs to be brought to a conclusion. Not even necessarily a happy conclusion (sometimes putting a project out of its misery is the kindest decision for all involved -- especially the junior scientist leading the charge). But sometimes it is the case that the results are just not that compelling (but it still deserves to be published in the journal of minor findings).

But I wonder what is the secret to motivation under these conditions?


  1. Motivation: You don't have to cringe everytime someone mentions publication bias?

    I would have defined an undead paper as the one you publish but it never gets cited in daylight again?

  2. For the uncited papers I like David Hume's "it fell stillborn from the press" -- these papers are a least not actively draining energy (and thus dead)! But sometimes it can be really disappointing when a good idea never makes it anywhere.

    Good point about publication bias; you forget how easily you can become part of the problem.

  3. Hume- graphic.

    The problem is that everybody wants publication bias to happen judging by their behaviour, at least.

    My last negative results paper was rejected from 4 or 5 places despite involving around 40000 person years of observation of the phenomenon under question. Apparently I was 'underpowered' to detect the real association that everybody desparately wants to be true.

  4. Underpowered is strange critique of a finished paper (although i have encountered it often, myself). After all, your results have a confidence interval and you can rule out effects about/below a certain threshold as being unlikely.

    40000 person years is pretty impressive; I think only extremely rare events would be difficult to estimate with that much data. But I've had the same issue myself far too often.

  5. We're not necessarily talking about rational people trained in epi here Joseph...

    The effect is real therefore if you can't show it then you are underpowered.