Scooped science gets a second chance

One of the biggest fears of scientist doing research is getting scooped by other scientist, making their research unpublishable. Now, there is good news to scientists, or at least biologist. PLOS Biology has a new policy when it comes to scooped research.

Scientific research can be a cutthroat business, with undue pressure to publish quickly, first, and frequently. The resulting race to publish ahead of competitors is intense and to the detriment of the scientific endeavor. 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. To recognize this, we are formalizing a policy whereby manuscripts that confirm or extend a recently published study (“scooped” manuscripts, also referred to as complementary) are eligible for consideration at PLOS Biology.

Being scooped is loosely defined as when two independent groups studying the same system produce the same or similar results, and one group publishes their work first. Being scooped is often considered to devalue the second, complementary study; many journals will reject it citing lack of novelty. However, there is a self-evident benefit to publishing complementary research, and at PLOS Biology, we consider that two papers from two groups independently identifying the same phenomenon in parallel increase the confidence in the results of the work.

This new policy, acknowledging the value of complementary studies, therefore addresses the current concern regarding the reproducibility, or lack thereof, of scientific findings. Currently, the gold standard for demonstrating that an article is based on solid results is a replication study. These studies are generally conducted after publication and are considered critically important for supporting and advancing scientific theories. We argue that the “organic” replication of a complementary study is even better than a post-hoc and often costly replication study for supporting conclusions. There are other efforts underway to improve reproducibility and encourage replication, such as the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology (, as well as endeavors to implement high-quality reporting. With consideration of complementary research, PLOS Biology will support and promote scientific reproducibility and replication.

Of course there is a time limit on publishing complementary results

Under our newly codified policy, authors of a complementary study have six months from the publication or posting (to a preprint server) of the first article to submit their manuscript to PLOS Biology. We hope that authors will use these six months to fully support and potentially extend the results of the first article. Complementary research submitted beyond the six-month period may still be considered, depending on individual circumstances. All submissions must still meet our editorial requirements for depth of study and potential impact.

I think this is a great move by PLOS Biology and as they say, it should help address the widespread concern with reproducibility of scientific results.

The time limit for complementary results makes sense, but I hope that PLOS Biology is open for papers reproducing older results, if the papers are important enough.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Currently, the gold standard for demonstrating that an article is based on solid results is a replication study.

    I’ve often wondered about this: what incentives exist to perform replication experiments? Anything requiring long set-up, elaborate equipment, and/or sophisticated techniques seems beyond the scope of classroom work, while a project going to “the next step” could easily involve some crucial minor difference making it not really “replication”.

    Without glory or (I suppose) grants, who does this crucial follow-up work?

  2. says

    Pierce, in some fields the industry would have an interest in doing the follow-up work, since they build products on the findings. In many fields, this doesn’t apply, and we have a problem – we need replication work to be considered worthy of publications and grants – PLOS Biology has taken one small step, and hopefully other publications will follow. Grants however, requires politicians understanding the value – something they don’t have a good track record of doing.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Kristjan Wager @ # 3 – Thanks for the explanation (though it still leaves me with the suspicion that lots of small-step path-breaking just doesn’t get replicated).