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My research, which in my opinion, is quite important, has unfortunately been getting noticed by people who has previously ignored them and systematically avoided to cite them.

This is not ideal for me! Because I want to remain as virtually anonymous for as long as possible so I don't get scooped. I really hate the feeling that the moment I publish my next paper there will be a flurry of paper that follow my work, leaving me with nothing to work on!

Is there anyway I can still remain anonymous and secretly working on my breakthroughs?

Help!

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    What field? In mine, you can't see a cool paper and immediately follow up on it, it would take years to get funding and recruit participants and work it up. – Azor Ahai -him- Feb 25 at 2:51
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    "...leaving me with nothing to work on!" New research inevitably creates new unsolved questions. This is the way research works and progresses. More people create more progress, so I would usually say you have a reason to be happy rather than to worry. – Snijderfrey Feb 25 at 8:19
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    The current top answer ("Sure, all you have to do is not publish your work.") is correct, but so obvious that I get the impression that we're missing something. Have you considered just not publishing your work? – lighthouse keeper Feb 25 at 9:19
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    If no one knows about your work or follows up on it you don't have "breakthroughs". Nor is it "quite important". If you keep it to yourself it may be fun, but otherwise, it is nothing. Sorry. – Buffy Feb 25 at 14:07
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    Your problem here is that you only have a "scoop" if your work is noticed. Science history is full of cases where people either never published or never got their published results noticed, and their field stagnated until someone later did exactly the same work. With hindsight, historians figure out that these facts have been around for decades, but people have wasted valuable time because they simply didn't know. Mendel might be one of the best examples of this, considering that he and Darwin were working in similar fields at the same time, but no-one knew about Mendel. – Graham Feb 25 at 16:14
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The prospect of getting "scooped" in extensions to your research project is rarely a big problem, because you always maintain a head-start on others through the period of time it takes for a paper to go from completion and submission to a journal to publication. Even if your paper is extremely well-written in the first instance, there is usually at least a six month delay between initial submission and publication; if you require revisions to the paper then the period of delay is longer, and it can often take years until publication occurs.

Now, obviously you can start working on extensions to your work at any time you want. If you do your work sequentially, and you start working on extensions as soon as you submit your previous work, you will still have a head-start of at least six months (if not a year or two) on those who later read your published work and then decide to extend it in like manner. If that head-start is insufficient then you can always start working on your extensions before submitting the finished product of previous work.

Irrespective of this, I would encourage you to see interest from other researchers as a desirable outcome, and be flattered if there is a "flurry of papers" that follow your work. (Oh, what I wouldn't give to have such a problem!) This is desirable for the progression of science and other academic fields. It is useful to have multiple researchers pursuing research in a field to progress it more broadly and rapidly, to give a heterogenous range of approaches on the subject, and to act as a check on erroneous work. Most researchers have the opposite problem --- it is often difficult to get other people interested in your work, and many good papers end up with zero citations because they do not attract interest from others.

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    I would add an explicit reference to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XY_problem They asked about hiding their work, but actually they are worried about getting scooped and not having novel ideas to work on. – usul Feb 25 at 18:16
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Sure, all you have to do is not publish your work.

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    @BCLC - If you give it a really obscure and badly written title, most everyone in your field will ignore it. If Einstein had labelled his Nobel-winning paper "Wibbly-jiggly photons doing weird stuff" instead of "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light", it's likely it would have been entirely overlooked. – Valorum Feb 25 at 14:30
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    @Valorum I suspect that today the first title might garner more attention. – Captain Emacs Feb 25 at 16:38
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    @BCLC A fair number of acclaimed papers have been published pseudonymously. One famous example would be Student of "Student's t test", en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Sealy_Gosset – origimbo Feb 25 at 16:44
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    I i'm not sure why being anonymous would help? The work would still be out there. – Ian Sudbery Feb 25 at 22:12
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While I agree with previous comments, I believe that your question indicates, respectfully, a misunderstanding of the scientific endeavor.

The entire point of scientific publishing is to have your work noticed by others and for them to build on it. This is what drives science forward. The vast majority of great scientists worked with a large group of students, collaborators and mentors from whom they drew inspiration. I can only think of a handful of researchers who were able to make significant scientific progress truly on their own.

Perhaps you are brilliant enough to not need such a support network; perhaps you are a Tony Stark-like figure, working in your lab and creating scientific marvels all by yourself.

But if that is the case, ask yourself this: why would you be worried that others would scoop your work? If it is so easy to generate followups to your work, then you should question whether it is indeed that groundbreaking or important.

After all, by virtue of you being the one to come up with this important idea, you should have a significant leg-up on any potential competitors, right?

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    I agree with this answer. I think it could be made better with a concrete example. If I made a very useful discovery regarding COVID-19 (I have not), I would hope that a bunch of people scoop me. Together we can save lives. – emory Feb 25 at 18:17
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    "If it is so easy to generate followups to your work, then you should question whether it is indeed that groundbreaking or important." Important work does make follow-ups easy. It's just that other people following up is a good thing, not a bad thing. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 25 at 20:58
  • @AnonymousPhysicist Excellent comment. I wonder whether you could not expand this to an answer. – Captain Emacs Feb 26 at 2:50
  • @CaptainEmacs Ben's answer does it well. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 26 at 3:05
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Broadly speaking there are three reasons to do research:

  • To push the boundaries of human knowledge forward for the betterment of humanity
  • Because you personally find it interesting and exciting and rewarding
  • Because the knowledge gives an organisation a competitive advantage over another organisation.

(Note these are not mutually exclusive)

If you are in the first camp, then other people working on your problems is good. If someone figures out what you've spent a year pondering without progress then great! That problem is now solved and you can move on to the next step.

If you are in the second camp and you feel that someone else figuring out the answer deprives you of the satisfaction you would get from making the discovery yourself, then just don't publish - since you are only doing for your own benefit why bother with publishing?

In the third situation you also wouldn't publish, and doing so might even be breaking your contract or even the law. However, you would have to give your work to your employer, if you had one, and I guess you might be scooped by someone else in the org. But that's their right, as you are being paid to better the org, not better yourself.

You tagged your post "independent-researcher" this is usually how people are described if their research is not what they do for a living. In which case, if you want to keep your research to yourself, that's entirely your right. If you are employed to do research in what we might broadly call a public institution (like a university), then you may be forced to publish to keep your reputation up and therefore keep your job. But again, this is right. Someone (generally, ultimately the public) is paying your salary, and they deserve the knowledge in return. And the quicker the better, since as the funder, it is their knowledge, and things advancing faster is in their interests.

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  • The third category includes "trade secrets" and there are probably laws regarding unauthorized disclosure. – Buffy Feb 25 at 20:55
  • good point, will edit. – Ian Sudbery Feb 25 at 20:56
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If you perceive other researchers only as adversaries and competitors who encroach on “your” territory, then I strongly suspect your definition of what it means to “do good research” is fundamentally different than that of actual good researchers.

A true good researcher does not worry about running out of things to work on, because they understand that the scope of things we are ignorant about is vast. The more interesting things you discover, the more new questions are raised by those discoveries, and the more work that creates for you and other researchers. To use language favored by politicians, the best kind of research is “job-creating” rather than “job-killing”. The good researchers are analogous to entrepreneurs, coming up with new ideas that create jobs for everyone else. Have you ever seen a successful entrepreneur who wanted to not spread word of their inventions to avoid other people working on similar things and them running out of things to work on? That is an absurd notion.

Anyway, if you are still concerned about competition, don’t publish your work and you’ll be fine as @allure’s answer says. But don’t be under any illusions that that means you are realizing your full potential as a researcher this way.

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    I think this is a little unkind. We all lay awake in the dark of night sometimes, worrying about running out of things to work on. Its not that worrying about it makes you a bad researcher. But in the light of day, we tell ourselves that there will always be things to work on, and get one with it. Rather than telling people that are bad researchers because of their worries, we should be helping them calm their nerves so they feel more able to contribute to research in a more positive way. – Ian Sudbery Feb 25 at 22:18
  • @IanSudbery do we really worry about running out of things to work on which may have interested us for a while, or running out things which may interest funding agencies punctually? – ZeroTheHero Feb 26 at 10:31
  • I can only speak for me, but I do worry about running out of ideas (not just fundable ideas). I never have run out, and as far as I can tell the list only ever gets longer. But what we worry about is rarely rational. – Ian Sudbery Feb 26 at 14:29
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Ben said it best. Let me add a couple pieces of information:

  1. The world is vast, and you never know what everyone else is working on. There may be one or multiple people out there duplicating your foundational work right now. Publishing now frees them to pursue more useful, non-redundant work. Also, if you care at all about recognition, publishing first gets you recognition for your foundational work. If you publish last, readers may be skeptical that you really made your discoveries independently. Even if they believe you, they may not care as much about date of discovery, and choose to credit the more influential researcher anyway, if only to stimulate the next visionary to publish earlier.
  2. You may have made a mistake or two. It happens. If your work gets attention, someone else may spot it, a third person may correct it, and you may progress much faster without it holding you back. I can't speculate more concretely without knowing about your research.

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