I spent much of the morning being livid, after stumbling on a paper. First, some background: In 2012, I published a paper in Nature Methods that introduced and described a new algorithm for rapidly and accurately determining the location of particles in images — something that’s very important to super-resolution microscopy, measuring fluid properties using tracer particles, finding stars in the sky, etc. I spent innumerable hours meditatively focusing on inventing an approach that is faster and better than existing methods, wandering lots of dead ends before finally coming up with the insight of a symmetry-based algorithm. It was an intense, and tiring process, and it led to the following paper. Note the title, and this subset of the figures:
Link to the full paper: http://www.nature.com/nmeth/journal/v9/n7/abs/nmeth.2071.html
This morning I found a paper that flagrantly rips off mine, with nearly the same title,method, figures, and even idiosyncrasies of analysis (how signal strength is plotted, what comparator methods are used, …). Here it is:
Link to the full paper: http://www.opticsinfobase.org/ol/abstract.cfm?uri=ol-37-13-2481
This paper was published shortly after mine, and was submitted before mine was published. I suppose it’s possible, though astronomically unlikely, that it was conceived independently. If not: how could the authors have found and lifted my (unpublished) work? I shared drafts of the paper widely — which was very useful in getting feedback and devising rigorous tests — and also presented on it at two conferences that occurred before these people’s paper’s submission date. The conferences are perhaps likely causes — the offending paper reads like an inexact and sloppy imitation of what I covered better in the discussion in my paper — it more echoes the way I presented it at meetings.
I’ve written to Optics Letters, and am awaiting a response.
So is the moral of this story to only present complete, published work?! That would be terrible, of course — one would lose the advantage of honing one’s thoughts through feedback and interactions, and conferences would become pointless repetitions of things we could already read. I don’t have great thoughts; perhaps I’ll write more later.