Global Village essay wins John Henahan writing prize
Manish Mahabir won the 2016 John Henahan Prize for Young Ophthalmologists for this essay on the theme of ‘Why Should I Publish?’
It was late at night. With droopy eyes and a bag in my hand heavy with papers, my legs could barely carry me. I was walking towards my home. There was no soul around. Dimly lit streets and occasional barking from stray dogs were my only company. I was dead tired from a long day’s work. The only thing on my mind was crashing on my bed so that I could get up early in the morning to finish my pending works.
‘Cling, Cling’… ‘Cling, Cling’… ‘Cling, Cling’…
It took me a while to figure out that phone in my lab coat was ringing. It was from my colleague Dr Bhagabat.
My speech slurred as I put the phone to my ears. What followed was one of the sweetest voices I had heard in a long while.
“The paper we had been working on for the past year has been published in Nature.”
“Oh my god!” I cried out loud.
My eyes lit up with joy and there was a large smile on my face. I felt lighter with an overwhelming sense of pride, fulfilment and accomplishment. All the hard work, sleepless nights and sacrifices we had made had finally come to fruition.
A few days later, when a click in my Gmail unveiled this topic, it struck a chord with me. It was a topic alluded to many times, but had never been discussed explicitly. I was intrigued and discussed it with my colleagues.
Still there was an itch to know what others felt about it. I created an online survey and leveraged email lists and social media to share it with the medical community. The first page of the questionnaire consisted of 10 common reasons cited for why we should publish, based on literature review and personal discussions.
The reasons included personal recognition, professional growth, self-learning, contributing to the knowledge base, collaboration opportunity, sense of fulfilment, regulatory compulsion, immortality, leadership and to overcome fear.
These options appeared in a random order for each respondent. It had to be graded on a five-point Likert scale ranging from strongly agree (score of 5) to strongly disagree (score of 1). There was a comment box where respondents could share their opinion. The second page of the questionnaire consisted of non-identifying data about the respondent. It included age, gender, highest educational qualification and whether the respondent had already published. Dual responses were prevented using a browser cookie so that the survey could be taken only once from a browser. At the end of the survey, respondents were taken to a live display of the survey results. (1, 2)
A total of 76 people voluntarily chose to take the survey. Among them, five chose not to disclose their personal details. Among the 71 respondents, 11.3 per cent (eight) belonged to >50 years age group; 42.2 per cent (30) were in the 30-50 age group; and 46.5 per cent (33) belonged to the age group <30 years.
Some 69 per cent (49) of our respondents were male, and only 31 per cent (22) were female. The majority of our respondents (74.6 per cent; 53) had a publication in their name. While 73.2 per cent (52) had completed their Masters or postgraduate, 12.7 per cent (nine) held a doctoral degree. Some 8.5 per cent (six) had completed their graduation, and 5.6 per cent (four) were undergraduate students.
Self-learning, professional growth, contributing to the knowledge base, personal recognition and sense of fulfilment were among the most common reasons respondents agreed with. Immortality, regulatory compulsion and overcoming fear were among the least favoured reasons.
There was ambiguity about immortality, with the coefficient of variation being highest at 36 per cent. One of the respondents wrote that it was important to share knowledge – even negative results were important. Another commented that research without publication was a waste of time, effort and money, and hence unethical.
We learn the most when we try to teach. We discover the gaps in our own knowledge. Things we did not know that we did not know, gradually come to light and reveal themselves.
We live in interesting times. The whole world is a global village. When we publish, the whole world is our audience. This is the era of artificial intelligence, crowdsourcing and democratisation of processes.
Strong technical insights can launch innovative new products, or a company, or a whole new industry. It is all within reach of a common man and not just the purview of industry or governments. There is no better time to publish and manifest the unlimited potential already within us. (3–5)
1. Einstein A. Writing and publishing a scientific paper: Facts, Myths and Realities. Med J Armed Forces India. 2015;71(107):e111
2. SurveyMonkey Analyze – Why should I publish? [Internet]. SurveyMonkey Inc. [cited 2016 May 27]. Available from: https://www.surveymonkey.com/analyze/lDcY99nGZ_2BK58vWas6W063sACFo9_2FcYtZMmlrPwM8Ks_3D
3. Chen Y, Elenee Argentinis J, Weber G. IBM Watson: How Cognitive Computing Can Be Applied to Big Data Challenges in Life Sciences Research. Clin Ther. 2016 Apr;38(4):688–701
4. Silver D, Huang A, Maddison CJ, Guez A, Sifre L, van den Driessche G, et al. Mastering the game of Go with deep neural networks and tree search. Nature. 2016 Jan 27;529(7587):484–9
5. Diamandis PH, Kotler S. Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World. Simon and Schuster 2015