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What If Scientists Didn’t Compete?

What if scientists, instead of rushing to publish or perish, chose to cooperate? Sean Cutler decided to do “a little experiment,” as he calls it, and you can see the results in the forthcoming issue of Science.

The journal carries an article by Dr. Cutler and 20 other researchers in the United States, Canada and Spain reporting a long-sought technique for helping plants to grow with less water by activating the natural defenses that enable plants to survive during droughts. (Here’s the Science article; here’s a summary of the research.) Dr. Cutler, an assistant professor of plant cell biology at the University of California, Riverside, knew that the rush to be first in this area had previously led to some dubious publications (including papers that were subsequently retracted). So he took the unusual approach of identifying his rivals (by determining which researchers had ordered the same genetic strains from a public source) and then contacting them. He told me:
 
 

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