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I hear (and use) the phrase 'getting scooped' to refer to an instance where researcher A uses the ideas of researcher B and publishes before B can publish. Is this strictly correct, and does it necessarily connote bad faith? Alternatively, is it still 'getting scooped' if researcher A came up with the idea on their own and just happened to publish first?

Any history or etymology of this phrase would be much appreciated.

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    I would have posted an answer, but I got scooped.
    – Ed V
    Apr 18, 2021 at 20:14

3 Answers 3

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There's no suggestion of dishonesty in the word.

scoop:

Informal: Publish a news story before (a rival reporter, newspaper, or radio or television station).

"time and again we have scooped our rivals with the top stories and pictures"

https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/

But do listen to Tom Lehrer's Lobachevsky.

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    Thank you, I never made the connection to 'news scoop'. Glad to be corrected. Apr 17, 2021 at 17:23
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    This answer would be significantly improved if it explicitly addressed the assertion in the question that it's researcher A using researcher B's ideas. While it does implicitly cover that, this answer doesn't address it explicitly (e.g. it talks about dishonesty, but not what would or would not be considered dishonest, leaving it up to the reader to make assumptions, none of which are valid in all societies worldwide).
    – Makyen
    Apr 17, 2021 at 22:34
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    @Makyen the word is used differently by different people, as is true with a lot of slang. As you can see from the other answer, at least some people think it means no dishonesty happened but I've definitely seen it used in a way that is completely neutral to that (it could be because of dishonesty, or not)
    – eps
    Apr 17, 2021 at 23:56
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    Interesting, appears to be some ambiguity and leeway in usage. Apr 18, 2021 at 9:33
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I think your first statement is not the common understanding. That would be misconduct and "getting scooped" is really just negative serendipity.

Suppose two researchers start out trying to answer the same research question, each without knowing of the other person. One of them is likely to get a suitable answer first and submits it for publication. The other person is said to be "scooped". It is just an unfortunate consequence that occurs fairly often in "hot" areas with a lot of people looking for answers at the same time.

The term, when properly applied, doesn't imply any kind of bad faith at all. If there is misconduct, then it is plagiarism, not "scooping".

There is a somewhat related case in CS, for which I know all of the principals. Two students at different universities were working on the same question at the same time. Because of the importance of conferences in CS, they knew one another and their advisors knew each other, but the research topic both students were working on never came up within this group, though many others were also interested in the answer to the question.

Both students then finished at about the same time and submitted papers to the same conference. This raised the question of whether there was any impropriety on the part of anyone involved. It took a year of investigation to determine that it was truly independent work and both students received their doctorates, though late. They both moved on to good positions, as the question they independently answered was important and valuable.

But, a few months difference in coming up with the answer and a paper to present it would have meant, possibly, that only one of them would get the degree and a publication. The other would have been scooped. In many cases, both degrees would be awarded, but it would depend, perhaps, on how independent the second person's work remained after publication by the first.

For any important but tractable question in a hot area of research, there are probably several people working independently. Someone will probably be first over the line. The others get "scooped".

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    In the penultimate paragraph "joint work" sounds wrong to me. "Independent work" would be better. I hope that had one been a few months slower it would still be good for a degree, and even for a good job, although not for the conference. Apr 17, 2021 at 14:07
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    @EthanBolker, yes, thanks. Fixed. And, yes, most places would probably still award a degree if that were the only difference. I think that is fairly common, actually. There are a few questions here relate to this issue.
    – Buffy
    Apr 17, 2021 at 14:12
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    @AppliedAcademic At least how I've seen it used, getting scooped is orthogonal to whether or not shady behavior went down. You can get scooped because someone was working out the problem separately or because some of the work was stolen or leaked.
    – eps
    Apr 17, 2021 at 23:53
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    for eg in this question academia.stackexchange.com/questions/90712/… . If you google "stole work and scooped me" you will see it's commonly used together.
    – eps
    Apr 18, 2021 at 0:00
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    @eps "stole my work and published before me" is used commonly together as well without there being a connotation of misconduct in "publishing before".
    – henning
    Apr 18, 2021 at 7:03
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Apart from lifting ice cream, "scooping" means to "collect information"

A 1912 book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle called "The Lost World" which is available electronically here, uses the word "scoop" to describe the collection of not ice cream, but information:

"We may get a scoop, if we are lucky. You'll be there in any case, so you'll just give us a pretty full report."

As pointed out in a comment to this answer, "scoop" in the publishing sense this way (referring to "a scoop of information") has been used since at least 1874 and as a verb since at least 1884.



Growing up, I heard the word "scoop" used in the following three metaphotical (not ice-cream-related) ways. Here I'm giving the exact quotes that people said:

  • "They scoop people up like that?" This was asked to me by a youth co-worker in 2006 when I was working at an amusement park, and the context was about "picking people up", which is definition #1 here. It's also the top definition on Urban Dictionary. I only remember hearing the word being used once this way (in Toronto, Ontario), but it was etched in my mind, and the above two links indicate that it's not so uncommon among urban youth.
  • "What's the scoop on the reply?" This was asked to me by a friend in 2005 (also in Toronto, Ontario) after I wrote something about him online, and he was asking for more details from me privately. This is definition #3 on the same webpage I referenced earlier.
  • "I think you have results to compare against. You may also have been scooped?" This is an exact quote from a professor in a December 2013 email. Context: He was helping me with some calculations for a forthcoming publication I was planning to submit, and while I was in the middle of this project, I found that a paper popped up online in which calculations of the same thing were published using a very similar (but not identical) method. I sent him the paper, and he replied saying that now there's something I can compare my calculations against, but also that I may have been scooped. This is definition #2 on the same webpage I referenced earlier.

In all three of the above "non-standard" definitions of "scoop", you can imagine a metaphorical ice cream scoop: (1) picking people up, (2) delivering information, (3) taking someone else's ideas with a metaphorical scoop.

This is the most likely etymology of the word. However, in academia the word has started to be used more and more frequently, and as you (the asker of this question) have stated that you do: people are now using the word without knowing where it came from, so it does get used to mean "publishing before someone else" without actually using a metaphorical scoop to take someone's ideas and deposit them elsewhere.

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  • Thank you, fascinating possibilities. Logically it seems like there was initially some suggestion of taking something that wasn't yours, else some equivalent of 'getting outraced' would be more natural. Apr 19, 2021 at 14:39
  • @AppliedAcademic Exactly! Apr 19, 2021 at 16:58
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    I think the term "scoop" in academia was borrowed from journalism, as suggested in definition 3 you linked. See here: 'The journalistic sense of "news published before a rival" is first recorded 1874, American English, from earlier commercial slang verbal sense of "appropriate so as to exclude competitors" (c. 1850).' Wikipedia also says: 'As a verb, meaning to beat someone in reporting first, it is first recorded in 1884.' Apr 19, 2021 at 20:02
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    I saw that too. Those articles don't seem to say why the word "scoop" of all words is used to describe that, but whatever the reason: I can see this choice of word "persisting" since it actually makes sense if you consider a metaphorical scoop like described in my answer, since scoop has been used since middle English, and all definitions refer to scoops in the ice cream sense or "The act of scooping, or taking with a scoop or ladle; a motion with a scoop, as in dipping or shovelling". At some point before 1874 it was extended for "getting information" Apr 19, 2021 at 20:07

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