Scooped Is a Spectrum

I kind of got scooped recently.

I say kind of, because as I’ve been realizing being scooped isn’t quite the all-or-nothing thing you’d think it would be. Rather, being scooped is a spectrum.

Go ahead and scoop up a spectrum as you’re reading this.

By the way, I’m going to be a bit cagey about what exactly I got scooped on. As you’ll see, there are still a few things my collaborator and I need to figure out, and in the meantime I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth. Those of you who follow what’s going on in amplitudes might have some guesses. In case you’re worried, it has nothing to do with my work on Hexagon Functions.

When I heard about the paper that scooped us, my first reaction was to assume the project I’d been working on for a few weeks was now a dead end. When another group publishes the same thing you’ve been working on, and does it first, there doesn’t seem to be much you can do besides shake hands and move on.

As it turns out, though, things are a bit more complicated. The risk of publishing fast, after all, is making mistakes. In this case, it’s starting to look like a few of the obstructions that were holding us back weren’t solved by the other group, and in fact that they may have ignored those obstructions altogether in their rush to get something publishable.

This creates an interesting situation. It’s pretty clear the other group is beyond us in certain respects, they published first for a (good) reason. On the other hand, precisely because we’ve been slower, we’ve caught problems that it looks like the other group didn’t notice. Rather than rendering our work useless, this makes it that much more useful: complementing the other group’s work rather than competing with it.

Being scooped is a spectrum. If two groups are working on very similar things, then whoever publishes first usually wins. But if the work is different enough, then a whole range of roles opens up, from corrections and objections to extensions and completions. Being scooped doesn’t have to be the end of the world, in fact, it can be the beginning.

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