Deferral mechanism?

As one who rightly or wrongly assumes that one of the purposes of NN is to provide platform to those who wish to rant / wax lyrical on the trials and tribulations of the practice of the caliginous art, I have been occasionally alluding to my protracted attempts to hew a block of flawed research marble into a form worthy of public exposure.

My boss returned from holiday this week, and suggested a meeting to discuss where it’s at. However, in the interim, having decided to address a potential discrepancy between my data and that in another recent related report, I decided I needed to carry out another experiment (x 3); and it’s also dawned on me that something I was upbeat about was actually a clue to something I need to be wary of. Which I’ve followed up – and I do. (Yeah, I know I’m being vague – purposely; however, the details are not that interesting.)

It’s got me thinking. About whether it’s even harder to get published after a dry run? That you become reticent, worrying it might be wrong, looking for excuses to hold it back out of fear of rejection?

But then isn’t that better than the potential converse: so desperate that you become vulnerable to compromising, massaging, crack-papering, spinning? So, you see, much as I need to – and much as I’m feeling that pressure to – ‘get something out there,’ I’m not going to submit it with the omission chisel marks still visible. And I was so close. But if I can’t nail it, it ain’t going anywhere.

Virtuousness or pussyfooting? Either way, maybe my clean driving licence will come in handy.

5 responses to “Deferral mechanism?

  1. I think finding the balance between being absolutely positive about your results and publishing “anyway” to move on is really tricky. Of course I don’t know the particulars about your case, but I’m thinking especially of the times when you need a lot of optimization to get the expected result – usually you have a rational for your optimizations, and they may very well yield a “true” answer, but it’s hard not to get the feeling that sometimes you are just fiddling around until you get what you want. Then you should always use different methods to show the same thing, to get around that problem, but it still bothers me.

  2. Thanks Anna. You’ve kind of hit (one of) the nail(s) on the head. What’s so deflating is the time it’s taken. But I now have to take stock, as it’s looking like a decision will need to be made: salvage or scupper?

  3. Always a tricky decision since no paper is every truly complete. But do you think your study incomplete or possibly incorrect (you were being effectively vague – for perfectly understandable reasons)? If the former, go ahead and publish. If the latter, take time to do the experiments to probe your concerns.
    Or have I missed the point? Deuced caliginous round here!

  4. Hi Stephen. Both. Obviously incomplete, but had become coherent; or so I thought. Until something else I was doing started to ring that ‘if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is’ bell. So the probing experiments have begun, and have prompted concern as to some of its veracity. Hence, the manuscript is going nowhere. (And yes, I’m being deliberately vague, because it also raises questions about some data that is already out there. Which could be interesting in itself.) In some smug scientist way I’m pleased – because I found it. But that doesn’t wholly alleviate the disappointment. Ahh well, whine and wine over the weekend, then dust mesen’ down and get on with it.

  5. I hope you have a good weekend with good wine to go with it! I think this is one of the things I like the least about science, how you can work really hard on something and then it turns out it’s going nowhere and you just have to move on. But at least in your case you found the thing that toppled the wagon…

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