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A colleague has uploaded about a dozen candidate disease genes to GeneMatcher, described here and here and located here, with excellent success. However last year and again recently he has encountered the case wherein a case was uploaded and a cohort formed, but a few months down the line one of the dropped out collaborators published an n=1 paper in a low tier journal, basically using GeneMatcher to check whether the disease link of the gene was legitimate, to assess the phenotypic range and see what test are worth doing.

  • Is there documented precedence of this behaviour (preferably citable)? If not,
  • does anyone have personal experience of this and what is the ratio of incidences over total submissions (I know that is hearsay, but it would be very helpful)?
  • And also has anyone successfully taken action (say getting user barred)?
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    $\begingroup$ when you say "this behavior", do you mean an ex-collaborator trying to rush a part of the collaborative project into print to get credit? that is very common. Are you referring more narrowly to this behavior on the GeneMatcher platform? $\endgroup$ – Maximilian Press Nov 20 '20 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ I was not aware that is common in general for a collaboration to be formed only for the collaborator to drop out and rush to press with the intel. Turns out there are lots of collaboration agreements to protect against shenanigans in joint works which are similar to MTAs. Sickening as it sounds this is the solution. $\endgroup$ – Matteo Ferla Nov 21 '20 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ I think that often collaborator starts with good intentions, but then the team falls apart and stop liking each other, and they still want to get something out of the work. There are a few ways it can happen. Never happened to me personally (at least not like this specifically). But anecdotally, I'd guess this is actually one of the most common paths to scooping. $\endgroup$ – Maximilian Press Nov 21 '20 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, no, this is more malicious. The site matches geneticists and they exchange patient details in chain emails, discuss a path to publication (agreed by all) and make the clinicians request further analyses say MRIs or blood work (within 2-3 months). Then when follow-up lab tests are planned, the collaborator suddenly goes silent and half a year later there is a paper in a low tier journal with their sole patient but with strong emphasis on the key traits discussed on in the collaborations. $\endgroup$ – Matteo Ferla Nov 21 '20 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I see. that is a more specific and very bad behavior. $\endgroup$ – Maximilian Press Nov 21 '20 at 18:17
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I am having trouble finding anything that directly addresses the issue of failed collaborations leading to scooping, but here are some examples of similar behavior:

As for punishment, that sounds hard. Scooping is sort of built into science; fighting over precedence is a big deal and has been for a long time. My solution would be to get rid of current academic publication and have everyone's open digital lab notebooks streaming results to publication feeds in real time; that way there's no ambiguity. Preprints and micropublications are sort of a poor man's version of this.

This is not a very complete answer but there may be enough there to help.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, excellent points. Just to add some extra in terms of GeneMatcher. Most collaborations flowered and only a few sour. Someone else has had a similar experience to my colleague, so it is not uncommon. The solution is to use collaboration agreements to safeguard against this —even if these are laughably enforceable. $\endgroup$ – Matteo Ferla Nov 21 '20 at 18:25

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