I was wondering if there are real faculty members who go to conferences or read the abstracts (if it's being published) and scoop others?

If not why some professors are so paranoid? IMHO A real entrepreneur would love to share his ideas and maybe someone else would do it instead of him. Consider Elon Musk for example who shares his ideas on Twitter. I would argue that Einstein wouldn't care if someone else had created general relativity.

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    That might happen, but I think much more common is that two people are working on the same thing, and person A is closer to publishing, but person B realizes they are going to get scooped if they don't hurry up and publish their own work on the topic. It might not be as complete as the work of A, but the work of A becomes a lot less groundbreaking once B publishes their work.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 21, 2017 at 2:58
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    What field? This would be rare in mathematics for various reasons, but other fields maybe not so much. Jul 21, 2017 at 5:46
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    There is no question that this happens sometimes. I think more useful questions are (i) how common is this kind of scooping and (ii) whether and how to take this possibility into account in one's professional practice. Jul 21, 2017 at 15:49
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    Actually Einstein did care. He collaborated with Hilbert in some phases on the development of General Relativity and later complained about "nostrification of results" when it seemed that Hilbert had gained some advantage. The aftermath gave mostly Einstein the credit and Hilbert never complained about that, although historians keep arguing who published what first and who inspired whom. But the point is: Einstein did care. And so would probably anyone with something as important as GR (and probably also quite a few people with things quite less important than GR). Jul 21, 2017 at 18:58
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    Musk isn't an academic scientist, he is an entrepreneurial businessman. Musk is mostly going after ideas that no one but him is willing to throw money at...in part, he is sharing his ideas to help convince others to partake in his ventures. He won't share parts of his ideas that are patentable unless he already owns the patents. Musk isn't under pressure to publish to be successful in the next grant cycle.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 21, 2017 at 21:42

4 Answers 4


At least in chemistry the information you get at conferences is usually (nearly) done work. The presenter has at least a very big head start so it's nearly impossible to take an idea there and do it yourself even faster.

A bigger problem are grant proposals. Here most of the time no or only little work on this topic has been done so it's actually possible to scoop others and in addition as a reviewer you can prevent the proposal from going through. We had that happen before where a reviewer wrote absolutely wrong and nonsense statements to get the proposal killed, most likely to copy that idea since he works on the same topic.

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    Grant proposals are usually subject to non-compete clause on the part of the evaluators, although proving you were scooped because the evaluator read your grant is a major hassle.
    – user67075
    Jul 21, 2017 at 15:43
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    @ZeroTheHero of course there are clauses but that doesn't stop some people. Proofing it is of course difficult and it also doesn't matter since it won't change the outcome, it just matters for resubmission but such reviewers are usually easy to exclude since their statements often make no real sense at all.
    – user64845
    Jul 21, 2017 at 15:59
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    @O.R.Mapper I'm pretty sure even in your field the proposal contained some kind of new idea as central piece of the research project (otherwise I would really wonder how this got funding).
    – user64845
    Jul 21, 2017 at 21:50
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    @O.R.Mapper In basic biomedical science, at least in the US, the trend seems to be towards having your research done before getting funding. Certainly this doesn't apply to all cases, but the process is so competitive, often with only ~10% of projects funded, that a grant proposal that contains a significant amount of preliminary data just looks better than one that is more speculative.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 21, 2017 at 21:59
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    ... this expertise with the rich experience that our partner XYZ has in the field of machine learning, we are confident to discover new possibilities for making news easier to gather, browse, and understand for people." Of course, considerably longer than this, but basically, all of the project description texts seemed to consist only of such contour-less yaddah-yaddah. But then, note that funding in these cases was usually granted by industry-oriented bodies rather than by scientific institutions. Jul 21, 2017 at 22:22

Yes people do scoop one another, especially in very competitive fields. I have witnessed horror stories of a postdoc sending an advance copy of a paper in final stages of preparation to his former advisor, only to be "scooped" by the advisor who wrote a short comment on the same topic and submitted it to a journal with fast turnaround.

The reality is that citations and other forms of recognition (like who published first) are now the currency of the realm, whether we like it or not. It will come as no surprise to anyone from this forum to learn that there are now more people than ever looking for a slice of the funding pie and/or a faculty or research position, and some will seek any advantage they can to get ahead of the competition.

In the situation you describe, where the information is "out there" as an abstract or preprint or conference proceedings, it's considered public domain and all bets are off, although usually with proceedings or preprints there is a date stamp that allows to establish claims of who got there first. With just regular conference presentations or seminars, you're on your own and trusting you have an experience advantage over the audience so you can publish first.

(Indeed in some circumstances it's clear the work is far from completion and the authors just want to stake the idea as theirs.)


I guess 90% of cases of scooping work like this:

Two labs are working on the same or similar projects, one lab takes the work to a conference. The other lab sees the talk and/or abstract and thinks "Cricky, we'd better get a move on double-quick else we'll be scooped" and publishes post-haste while the first lab is unaware of the competition. Additionally its possible that the second lab might see an interpretation of the data that they had been missing in their work, and might publish that as theirs.

It is possible to be first-principles scooped, but I think its unlikely. They only time it has happened to me is when I was a grad student working on my own on a project, and a company but a team of 10, equiped with robots, on the same project.


I know at least one case in which the reviewer deliberately slowed the reviewing process and then published before the reviewed article.

Like this question on academia stackexchange refers to: A reviewer has stolen my idea – what can I do? [duplicate]

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    Citation? There are such stories, but many of them may be apocryphal. Part of the mythology.
    – Buffy
    Jun 30, 2019 at 14:52
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    @Buffy, some may be apocryphal, but some are definitely not, as I can aver. Jun 30, 2019 at 19:11
  • @Buffy, there's no way to prove it with evidence. The reviewed manuscripts and reviewer comments are not revealed outside the Journal.
    – Kevin
    Jul 1, 2019 at 15:05

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