My Science Enemy

Sep 13 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Original post date: Sept 13, 2010

A few days ago, I got an email from a service I don't at all recall signing up for. It's called CiteAlert, and its job is apparently to notify you when one of your publications has been cited in an Elsevier journal, which is pretty much all of them. All of the journals.

I was of course very pleased with this news, and was also of course very curious as to what extremely intelligent person had read my paper and thought it worthy of a mention. When I clicked through, however, I discovered something troubling. The citation was made by my Science Enemy, and my work was mentioned for the sole purpose of taking a jab. Well, I never!!

My history with Science Enemy goes back around 10 years, when I was presenting my first ever conference poster. She was very interested in my work, and, wanting to be sociable, I casually asked her whose lab she was in. My friendly query was met with an indignant "MINE," and it's there I believe the rivalry began. I of course tried to remedy this faux pas with "Oh, it's just because you look so YOUNG!!" (and truly she did), but my conciliatory words fell on deaf ears; it was on.

Since my post-doc began, our lines of work have come dangerously close together. In fact, due to a certain journal taking for-fucking-ever to review my manuscript, she even semi-scooped me. But she took some shortcuts, and frankly, my lab has more sophisticated methods, so I went on to publish mine in a journal with twice the impact factor. We've found similar, but not exactly matching results, and consequently have developed differing theories as to what's actually going on in our general area of study. Happens all the time, right? But she's harassed my lab mates at meetings, and once came up to my poster, whipped out a ruler, and proceeded to measure my error bars. Who does that??

I have to say, I don't like this. I'm not used to being actively disliked! Considered a loser and forced to eat lunch alone, sure, but just flat-out antagonized? It's weird. I see her at every SfN meeting and I try my best to be cordial. I even call her "Dr Enemy" to show respect! And yet, it is still so uncomfortable, because every time I catch a glance at her, her eyes are shooting laser beams in my direction.

Now, I don't mean to be painting myself as some passive victim, here. In defending my own work it's unavoidable that I address our discrepancies, which means that in some way, I have to state what I think is at best unclear and at worst wrong about hers. So I get it. I just wish we could talk about our differences like adults, rather than dance around each other like the Sharks and Jets.

I know there are plenty of science rivalries out there--any good stories? Any happy endings? (Genomic Repairman, don't answer that).

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