A sleeping beauty is an article or paper whose recognition is delayed for several years after publication. In science, a sleeping beauty is generally defined as an article whose ‘citation history exhibits a long hibernation period followed by a sudden spike of popularity.’
We all fear that our novel idea may not be novel after all. A fair concern given that we are educated while standing on the shoulders of giants. Perhaps another real fear is the accusation of plagiarism. That’s a current topic given the recent inauguration of alleged serial plagiarist Joe Biden as the 46th President of the US. You may recall that he dropped out of the 1987 campaign over issues that included his use of unattributed passages in speeches.
Any author wants to believe that their ideas are original. In this day and age, the potential for sleeping beauties must make authors and publishers alike nervous. Each will likely check for prior publications. But what if there is no electronic version? Or the virtual papers are incorrectly described by metadata that a search engine can use?
Unsurprisingly, the sleeping beauty problem is a research topic of its own.
This is not an area in which I have much knowledge or expertise. I simply recognise the challenges because I worked in a fiercely competitive industry that frequently went to litigation over rights infringements: intellectual property, service marks, trademarks and patents were common areas of dispute.
Conversely, the litigation was sometimes required to seek continued access to long established, widely used technologies that had never been protected. There’s a particular sleeping beauty that was published by a surnamesake, no relation, before I was born. It’s a classic case, in my mind at least. The paper published in 1954 gave rise to a new company in the 1990s.
The new company licensed the technology from another major company that filed and acquired a patent in 1996 which, to my mind, was clearly a derivation from the prior arts but for the fact that they used it in a different manner. The banks of lawyers and the US Patent Office clearly had no concerns about my opinion and that was that. The rest of us had to find alternative tools to maintain our own continuity of practice.
Here’s an interesting paper on sleeping beauty that I read recently. And note that all of the quotes on today’s post come from this one article.
Defining and Identifying Sleeping Beauties In Science
– Qing Ke, Emilio Ferrara, Filippo Radicchi, Alessandro Flammini
– Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jun 2015, 112 (24) 7426 7431
‘Our results reveal that the SB phenomenon is not exceptional.’
‘… we can observe many examples of papers achieving delayed yet exceptional importance in disciplines different from those where they were originally published.’
It’s interesting to me that research into the evolution of science is an active field. Without understanding how science works, there can’t be effective plans and policies at national nor university nor commercial levels. Coming from a geoscience background, I remain amazed that universities are ranked for their geoscience prowess on their research capacity and capability. It’s one way to gauge the skills of the teachers and even the graduates but is this academic ranking detrimental to the education of top rank applied geoscientists? I was never the academic, always an applications specialist.
Then again, a few geoscientists of my acquaintance were themselves sleeping beauties; well educated, but after a few years in industry, their application and integration of technologies was awesome. And way more interesting is the high proportion of these very few that were serial sleeping beauties.