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Background: 25 years old, I have a BA in Anthropology, graduated in 2016, but currently working in a field unrelated to my degree.

I have been involved within a scientific organization for the past 3 years doing anthropology related projects. The whole involvement was completely voluntary, though I also got to travel two times to different countries because of it. But overrall, it was money loss + missed chances to start my current job earlier.

During the past 2 years, the organization started to publish a journal with collected papers from other people in this field (most of the authors are known only locally in my country). The director (senior colleague of mine) of the organization started to push me to publish in it to which I, naively, accepted without realizing how actually difficult is to write a good paper. The reason he did this is because I had an experience with few methods which are rare in my country, but then no-one could review them to check if they are done correctly.

I have a draft version of the paper, however, the final results are not quite what I was hoping for. Because of the lack of good quality data, the results are obviously flawed and knowingly publishing bad quality results might hurt me in the long term if I decide to pursue academic career later down the road. But currently, I'm quite satisfied with my job (which is unrelated to anthropology) and I will never put this paper in my CV. Furthermore, I doubt that I will continue working in anthropology in the future.

The only thing that's killing me is that I already promised to deliver a paper, and this would be the second time that I would not send a paper for publishing. The first one that I did not send was when I was 22 (two years ago, because of the same reasons). During that time, the director got a bit offended and told me that some one could benefit from the methods (even though they were never actually reviewed by some professional experienced in applying them, so they could've been flawed).

What would be the best thing to do in a scenario such as this? I really do not like to publish bad quality results. Should I talk with the senior colleague and risk to burn bridges?

  • 12
    A published paper with some flaws is better than an unpublished flawless paper. – henning Oct 7 '18 at 12:53
  • 5
    What might be trash to you is gold to another person who benefits from it. – Rita Geraghty Oct 7 '18 at 12:55
  • ...people will find it even if you don't mention it in your CV. But rest assured nothing bad will happen, though. At best, people might curiously ask some decades later: "this was a research question then?" – jvb Oct 7 '18 at 12:59
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My first guess is that you think your work is worse than it really is. This is a variation on Imposter Syndrome of course. The director, however, knows your work and presumably something about the field. His faith is stronger than yours.

But to ease your fears, I'd suggest that you try to work with the director to refine your paper. Along the way you can bring up your reservations naturally and, probably, address them. If you can arrange this, then you might include the director as co-author, depending on the degree of collaboration.

Even if your paper isn't perfect (few are), you probably have something valuable to contribute as the director indicates. Indeed, the methodology of the paper might be much more important to the community than the immediate results.

Also, I hope that the publication system of the journal includes good reviewers. By submitting it you will get additional feedback from knowledgeable people that will help you improve the paper before final publication. Even without the director's direct help, the review should be valuable.

Publishing just seems like a big win to me.

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If you know the quality of the data is not good enough, state it clearly. Then it won't hurt your career.

Some papers state explicitly what their contribution is. You could add this and explain that you primarily want to introduce the method and show some preliminary results which are not good enough for themselves.

  • 3
    +1 for just be honest about the data. Then your readers can draw appropriate conclusions. – Ethan Bolker Oct 7 '18 at 17:14
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As the other two answers have mentioned, write your paper and the data-collection mechanisms and the shortcomings you had with that mechanism. You can add a section titled 'discussion' (just an example) where you can spend a paragraph or two to explain the nature of the data, the degree of errors (i.e. what, how, and why) in the results etc. Then, in the end, you can mention that refining your results is part of your future work.

As you said nobody has worked in your method (in your country), it might be helpful for future researchers to build upon. They can remove those flaws. This is how research work. During my MS, I developed a scanning system which was miles away from being called an ideal system. But it provided a testing ground for use and later-on future researchers in my lab build on it and now it is being used commercially.

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