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Reporting Preliminary Results - Case B1

Lauren Janss is a bright, hard-working postdoctoral fellow. She is carrying out important research on dopamine receptors in the brain that may yield a better understanding of Parkinson's disease. When the abstract deadline for the national neurosciences meeting approached, each trainee in the lab, including Lauren, was asked what he or she planned to submit. Lauren hesitated to respond. Dr. Jim Cummings, her postdoctoral advisor, urged her to utilize data presented at a recent lab conference because it made a good story and she would have plenty of time to confirm and extend the results before the meeting. Lauren preferred to hold off because, as she explained to Dr. Cummings, she recently has been unable to confirm the main result fully. Dr. Cummings insisted, saying that Lauren was being too timid and that others would get the credit if she delayed. He added that Lauren should not be concerned, as the experimental results were consistent with theory. Dr. Cummings said, "Lauren, you must be more aggressive with your data if you are to succeed in the cutthroat world of contemporary science. After all, it's publish or perish! Why don't you take first authorship on this abstract?"

Reluctantly, Lauren submitted the abstract and to her surprise and Dr. Cummings's delight it was selected for a plenary slide presentation.

Despite an enormous effort, Lauren could not replicate or extend the results and announced to Dr. Cummings that she wished to withdraw the abstract. Visibly irritated by Lauren's request, Dr. Cummings told her harshly that this was not an option and pressed her to do more experiments.

Questions:

  1. What are the research requirements for submitting an abstract to a meeting?
  2. If you were Lauren, how would you have responded to the initial request for an abstract?
  3. If you were Dr. Cummings, how would you have approached Lauren?
  4. To what extent does a presentation at a meeting resemble a publication? To what extent does it differ from a publication?
  5. As first author on the abstract, does Lauren have different responsibilities from those she would have had if Dr. Cummings had assumed primary authorship?
  6. In light of her inability to replicate or extend the results, what should Lauren do to correct the record concerning the apparently erroneous results presented in her abstract? How should she respond to Dr. Cummings's refusal to consider withdrawal of the abstract?
  7. Not all submitted abstracts become full papers. If you were Lauren, would you have felt differently if the abstract were accepted for a poster session?
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