Advice to junior researchers: High or low road to success?
Junior researchers face a
choice: a high or a low
road to success
James C. Coyne, Ph.D.
University Medical Center Groningen, NL
Institute for Health Policy, Rutgers
University, NJ, USA
How you are different…
Methodologically, statistically more
sophisticated than those who have come
More digitally savvy, although slow in
taking advantage of the resources
available to you.
How you are different…
Electronic monitoring of duplicate
publication, salami slicing, plagiarism.
Quantification of output—JIF, Hirsch
Pre-registration of clinical trials.
Much of what I said five years ago is
Much of what I say today is already
becoming obsolete and will be obsolete
in five years.
Be aware of the need to effectively
communicate about your work, use
Challenge the gross inadequacies of
peer review, write letters to the editor.
How I work today is quite different from
how I was trained, or even to what I
was doing 5 years ago.
Increasingly involves being fluid in
scholarship and digital technologies.
I am a boundary spanner for loosely
organized groups of authors, some of
whom never meet until after a paper is
Cochrane Collaboration honored one
BMJ paper with the Bill Silverman
Prize: certified disruptive innovators.
Tweet, blog, use facebook.
Champion open access publishing.
Goal: Publish all the evidence, not just
all the findings that fit a particular bias
Promote continuous post-publication
23,468 articles published last year
400,000 member review board
Impact Factor 3.73
“The job of the PLOS ONE reviewer is not to decide
whether the study represents a significant advance to
the field, or whether additional experiments need to
be performed to increase the impact, or whether it is
suitable for a broad interest journal. The reviewer
must simply ascertain whether the study has been
performed correctly, and whether the data support
Tweets may become a blog post,
then a series of blog posts, eventually
a peer-reviewed journal article.
Sometimes works in opposite
Blogging very much part of “how to
be a scholar” in the current, digital
I use blogs to post first drafts of ideas
and often to work out just what I think
Blogging a way to support junior
investigators in developing their critical
thinking, their research, and in
But the blog can be much more…..
Figure out where such action is
Invite you to join me in participating in
Alternative path, not for everyone.
The low road
Clear opportunity to conform, play the
game according to rules that work, once
you are aware of them.
Many of you will do so and some of you
can rise to the top of a mediocrity by
If everyone likes your work, you can be certain that you
haven’t done anything important. Conflict and pain go
with the territory -- that of changing how a profession
thinks and furthering what we know about our world.
The pressures on young researchers are to conform, to
accept fashionable ways of analyzing problems, and
above all to please senior professors and their own
peers. Unfortunately this is bad for scientific progress.
Field of Psycho-Oncology is a Mess
Confirmatory Bias, many findings
accepted as positive are exaggerated
or outright false.
Bulk of intervention studies are
underpowered, high risk of bias, not
intent to treat, yet obtain significant
results at statistically improbable rate.
Self-interest of professional groups
consistently trumps commitment to
Most notably seen in aggressive
promotion of screening for distress as
panacea in face of lack of evidence.
Many celebrated findings are null upon
closer examination: Spiegel, Fawzi,
Negative trials of supportive expressive
therapy and expressive writing are
relegated to file drawer.
Zombie ideas and tooth fairy science.
System is not working fairly.
Papers appear in ostensibly peerreviewed journals without adequate
review, cronyism, sweetheart deals to
ignore reviewers’ comments.
Sandbagging of critics and negative
Authors able to suppress commentary,
censor criticism of their work.
Journal of Clinical Oncology
Flawed peer review, defensive editors,
and serious restrictions on correction of
miscarried review process.
Post publication peer review continually
handicapped, kept weak, silenced.
Will you adopt a safer course of
upholding conventional wisdom, denying
anything is wrong, and take advantage of
confirmatory publication bias to continue
to make strong claims about weak
Obedient replication: Investigators accept
that the prevailing views are so dominant
that finding consistent results is a sign of
being a good scientist and there is no
room for dissenting results and objections.
Adapted from John Ioannidis, 2012
How to Succeed
Pick trendy topic.
Don’t be critical of dominant view.
Use biological measures, even if they have no
or unknown clinical significance.
Report positive findings, even if you have to
spin and torture data.
Claim confirmation of dominant view, no matter
what you found.
Telling It Like It Ain’t: How to Succeed
Have lots of endpoints and pick the one
that makes your Trial look best.
Favor secondary analyses, subgroup
analyses, and endpoints developed post
hoc over negative findings for primary
Lurk, Like, Favor, and Comment
Join Groups like Mental Elf
PubMed Commons is a system that
enables researchers to share their
opinions about scientific publications.
Researchers can comment on any
publication indexed by PubMed, and read
the comments of others.
PubMed Commons is a forum for open
and constructive criticism and
discussion of scientific issues.
It will thrive with high quality
interchange from the scientific
Join the Pubmed Commons
No longer will a few people grant an
irrevocable judgment of “must stand
because it is peer reviewed.”
You can take post publication peer
review out of the hands of editors.
The Larger Goal
To create a literature that is honest
and a reliable guide for other
researchers, clinicians, patients, the
media, and policy makers as to best
The Larger Goal
….A system where the review
process is transparent and
persists for the useful life of a
--Paraphrase of M. Eisen
Thank you for your attention.
Follow me on Twitter @CoyneoftheRealm.
Publically accessible Facebook wall (James
Blogs: Mind the Brain, Science-Based