Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Territorial Imperative

Imagine you have an opportunity to conduct research in a specific wetland in a remote location and subsequently spend years studying that particular ecosystem and publish several papers on your work. You have permission to work in this particular site and have established permanent plots that you plan to continue monitoring in the years to come. You then hear that another researcher (senior male) has traveled to your study site (without permission) to specifically gather data to “refute” your earlier findings. Sound unbelievable? Well, this happened to me a number of years ago.

The way I found out was that this person presented their findings at a major conference and even reported his intent at the beginning of his talk. He had published a couple of papers earlier on the topic, so apparently felt that this was “his field”. Several colleagues in the audience told me about it later (I was not at the conference). They also reported that the presentation and the data this guy presented were so lame, that no one had the heart to challenge him (Huh?). He never published any of these data. But I always wondered if his efforts to attack my work were due to a sense of “territoriality”. Did my being female have anything to do with his sense of entitlement and apparent belief that he could trespass on my study sites? Does this happen more frequently to female vs. male scientists? To junior vs. senior scientists?


Anonymous said...

I've experienced a situation when the referee of my paper used my results and ideas and then made sure my paper didn't get published. It was gender in the sense that this leader in my field may have been surprised that a younger woman was able to get a leg in. It wasn't gender in the sense that what he did was just ugly competitiveness that is rampant in the sciences.

Sounds like what happened to you was a mixture of gender and competitiveness. Thoroughly unpleasant all the same.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I was once told by a male colleague that when he got a paper by a competitor to review that he let it sit on his desk for months (back in the days when journals did not have automatic reminders sent out every three weeks). Then, when the editor prompted him for the review, he would say that he would be unable to finish it in time because of fieldwork, etc...

If done properly, he could delay publication by months if not longer. He seemed to consider this behavior as an accepted strategy in scientific competition.

Fortunately, journal editors wised up to this and now require commitment in writing as to intent to review and then set a 3-4 week deadline to receive it.