The twilight world of the unpublished

It’s interesting to wonder sometimes, precisely how much research out there in the world has been done but not told to anyone. As is becoming apparent the more I speak to people, not everyone publishes everything they intend to. People talk about that chapter of their thesis which they could get at least two papers out of if they could find the time. Datasets languish in the unseen corners of raid arrays, unanalysed and gathering dust.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I know exactly what it’s like to be on a strict time budget. Sometimes you have things that just need to be done now. The things that won’t wait. They’re an integral part of this bizarre world we call academia. And everyone who’s ever written anything formal knows how much effort it takes. It’s a big big drain on your time and takes a lot of commitment and dedication to see through to the end. More so, the more co-authors you’re trying to work with. Even more so when you work with people who live in different cities. Or countries. I really don’t envy the scientists who work on the large scale projects which churn out papers containing 50 or more co-authors. All the same… I can’t help but be curious.

Every time I type a search into Google Scholar or NASA ADS, the thought is usually somewhere on the back of my mind that there may be more on this subject that has just never been published. Perhaps something tucked away as a footnote to someone’s thesis. How could they know that this tiny tidbit of information might be crucial to someone else’s research interests?

Perhaps sometimes we all get so caught up in the rush to gather more data that we forget to finish working on the last batch. I think it’s reasonable to say that the university lifestyle attracts its fair share of people who like starting new projects but aren’t so good at finishing them. Or just people who would be great at finishing them if they had just a little more time in which to do so.

Speaking as someone who’s currently sitting on two datasets and a host of calculations in need of analysis which have been temporarily shelved so that I can write a new telescope time proposal, this gives me some dissonance. I think perhaps once this is done, I should resolve to spend the rest of this year tying off loose ends. I should publish more. Publications are good.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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