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Untapped Opportunities

Posted on January 30, 2008

Gary S. Sachs (bio) recommends focusing more on utilizing available data than on worrying about divvying up authorship.


People are always concerned at the beginning about spelling out the precise way decisions will be made about any intellectual property, authorships. These turn out to be, I think, overblown.

Almost any agreement is fine. At the beginning of a project there’s always concern that there won’t be enough data to go around, and people seem to be worried that they won’t get their share. But the history of big projects, and even most smaller projects, is quite the opposite. The history of data sets are to be underutilized.

Finding authors who will write up data is a much more difficult task than, “Let’s just make an agreement about how we’re going to assign authorships.” If you do that, get it out of the way. It will be there. It is a sterile piece of paper that will almost never be used.

At the end of the project, you will be very frustrated that there are gold mines there that haven’t been worked, and you will be looking for people who will come in and take that data and produce papers. I think some more attention to that is more important than the precise way the data agreements are written up, and I would see those as sort of checkbox procedures that are really, really important to do to make people comfortable at the start, and therefore they become tasks unto themselves.

Let’s get everybody to that comfort level. But if you’re leading a project or if you’re being asked to participate and you’re not the PI, realize that there are enormous untapped opportunities usually toward the end of every project. Begin to identify which ones are of interest to you, and inevitably you will get those opportunities if you reach out for them.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher at the 2007 International Conference on Bipolar Disorder in Pittsburgh, PA.


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