Meiklejohn's Razor

03 Sep 2015

The worst moment in my professional career happened to me a couple years ago.

I had submitted a paper to a conference I was invited to submit to, and resulting from it a colleague of mine suggested that the only reason that I had been accepted was because my company had sponsored the event. Following from that, I was moved to another part of the project by my manager and was the target of a social media post about my behavior on the project.

Time has passed, and all of these relationships have been repaired, but this still bothers me to this day. During my time as a researcher, I never failed to properly attribute credit to someone who deserved it, whether it be a paper or a conference talk. However, I am acutely aware of the emotions that can be invoked when someone builds upon your work and fails to attribute it correctly. I have experienced this same feeling myself while working on research projects that are improperly cited by projects that build upon our research.

Research is difficult. It is very difficult to know all of the possible work that might be an influence that you were not aware of; it is literally impossible to know every possible influential work that you have build you work upon without spending hours upon hours working through citations on related work.

In summary, I propose an alternative to “Hanlon’s Razor”:

“Never attribute to malice, that which is adequately explained by a lack of exhaustive search to the researcher.”

We’re all human and we make mistakes whether we know it or not. But, let us all give each other a chance and never draw judgements without having a conversation and know where we are coming from.