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I am doing a PhD in molecular biology where we conduct research on human skin and skin diseases. Our group (EU based) has been in a discussion with another research group from the USA, where we can factually show that our methods are 'better' and cleaner than theirs. Nevertheless, they keep publishing work where they don't even cite any of our papers. We noticed that our publications were rejected by journals where people from the USA group function as editor/reviewer as well. We are always open for discussion and collaboration because good science cannot be done alone.

Very curious how we should handle this problem.

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    Counter strategy against group that repeatedly does strategic self-citations and ignores other relevant research seems related. You might find some of those strategies useful. – Anyon Feb 5 at 14:29
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    Just out of curiosity, is it one specific research group that ignores your research, or a ... family of research groups that are somehow related, or are they being ignored by the whole community? – penelope Feb 5 at 15:14
  • I suspect (1) if I were to ask the other group they would say using diplomatic language that your approach is garbage; and (2) I would not be able to say who is right and wrong. I am curious why is this a problem? – emory Feb 6 at 22:44
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    "Our important research is being ignored" - tell me about it! – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Feb 7 at 22:19
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    @einpoklum ... then tell me what you were told! – ZeroTheHero Feb 8 at 3:52
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Continue to publish your results in journals that will accept them. After a while people will be able to see for themselves whether the US group is ignoring your publications.

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    And give talks at international conferences, with a comparison of your results. – Kimball Feb 5 at 16:55
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    @Kimball, your comment is worth its own answer! – Iris Feb 6 at 10:27
  • @Kimball if they are accepted / invited to the same conferences. – mathreadler Feb 7 at 13:28
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we can factually show that our methods are 'better' and cleaner than theirs.

Your methods may be better, but if their methods are adequate to support the results they claim, they may have good reasons to continue using their methods. They already have the equipment for their method in their lab. They are more familiar with the analytical techniques related to their method. They want to be able to compare new results with past ones. Etc.

Only if their methods are actually producing wrong results would their not using your method require a letter to the editor other public response.

Nevertheless, they keep publishing work where they don't even cite any of our papers.

If they don't use your method, it doesn't seem necessary to cite your papers with reference to methods in a paper focused on experimental results rather than on methods.

If their results are contradictory to yours, then it could be out of line to present their results without discussing why they feel yours are in error. It also justifies publishing your results with a discussion of why your methods are an improvement, and makes your results more valuable as they overturn previously published ones.

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    "If they don't use your method, it doesn't seem necessary to cite your papers with reference to methods": Well, in many fields there is the expectation that the authors of a paper present at least in the introduction a broader view of the subject, and if there are several state-of-the-art methods to accomplish a certain task, the authors are usually expected to cite them. – Massimo Ortolano Feb 5 at 21:01
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    @MassimoOrtolano, To me, it would depend whether the paper is meant to introduce a new experimental method (in which case I agree you should survey existing methods and show the new one is better), or whether it's meant to present some new result, in which case you would survey prior related results, rather than prior experimental methods. – The Photon Feb 5 at 21:20
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    @MassimoOrtolano, I have edited to clarify my meaning. – The Photon Feb 5 at 23:05
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    "Only if their methods are actually producing wrong results would their not using your method require a letter to the editor other public response." Actually, there might be value in doing a paper exploring the pros and cons of the two methods, to help future scientists select the appropriate method for their own experiments. Regardless of outcome, I'd expect the results to be enlightening to at least one of these two research groups... – anaximander Feb 6 at 12:03
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    @anaximander, of course, but it's the job of the group developing the new improved technique to write that paper, not the group continuing to use an established technique. And even if they do write that paper and show their method is better (reduces errors, or whatever), the other group is not then obligated to start using the new technique. They may still have reasons to continue with their old one. – The Photon Feb 6 at 17:14
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Consider a Europe-based journal or even a native language one. It's not ideal -- usually the American society core journals are the best. But there are some legacy good ones overseas also. At a certain point, it becomes more important to get your stuff out and not be blocked. I was tangentially involved in two specific instances related to this, where the publish abroad method was used successfully:

  • Tiff between two very big natural scientists with the US one blocking French group. The French ended up in a French language journal (not ideal, but important because it was a very hot area and they needed to get priority for a series of discoveries).

  • American-born, but France-based economist who published some findings that made several US companies unhappy (statistical evidence of collusion). He made sure his book was printed in Europe.

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If you are interested in the long game, having a record of your precedence will be helpful in three ways:

  • First, it may act as a deterrent to the US group. You can ignore one or two significant recent findings and defend it as an honest mistake, but if there is a long trail of it, this is a big problem. It may reach a point they are unwilling to pass.

  • Second, it makes it more likely the rest of the community notices.

  • Third, when it does emerge, you'll only get the credit for the work you actually published first.

Notice there is not a particularly strong effect of where the record exists for any of these points. Letters to journals etc can all help.

In the short term if you're convinced this is deliberate on their part there is not a huge amount I am aware of that you can do. The journals and the institution the US group are connected with may be willing to apply pressure to the group on your behalf. However their is no guarantee of any of this as it's even if it's clear to you what's going on it's potentially difficult to see this as anything other than grey until someone close to the field is involved (especially if there is not a publication record...). Also if there is something, it will likely not be you directly doing any of this. If the rest of the group is aware, there's no much more for you to do.

This is unfortunate for you as this kind of thing can take a while to be resolved, which in an established position may not be so bad but for a PhD this could well be to late for important events. I am sorry you are in this situation.

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An increasing number of journal offers the possibility to publish short articles of critical feedback, often called "letters to the editor" and generally published online.

An example that comes to mind is PNAS' Letters in which scientists can reply to articles, provide feedback, point to fundamental methodological errors etc.

If you have reason to assume that the competing teams' methods are flawed, this type of open comments may be a good way to (constructively) suggest that alternative techniques (such as yours) are more accurate?

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Ask them why they are ignoring your work!

Send a polite message saying you are following their work and very interested in it, it's proving very helpful to your own thinking. Ask them if they have considered using your approach, as if they think it would help, say you would be happy to discuss further or share lab protocols.

Come on guys, these petty lab squabbles are so tiresome and an immoral waste of funders money. There cannot be anything to 'steal' if you have already published.

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