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Are you a successful researcher? Well, it depends on who's asking
  1. Simon Noble
  1. Correspondence to Simon Noble, Palliative Medicine, Cardiff University, Royal Gwent Hospital, Cardiff Rd, Newport NP202UB, UK; Simon.Noble{at}wales.nhs.uk

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I have, on file, a very polite letter from a palliative care journal explaining that it would not be sending my paper out for review, since it covered a topic that was not of relevance or interest to the target audience. The editor kindly wished me every success in my future research.

That letter had a profound impact on my academic career. I rationalised that rather than my rejected paper being of no interest to the palliative care readership, it was just not the right time to consider the conclusions I had drawn. We are still a young specialty; academically even more so. Challenging the established view, however well intentioned, may be interpreted as discourteous rather than a pursuit of academic rigour. My resolve was further strengthened when later that year an Australian gastroenterologist Barry Marshall along with Robin Warren was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for the discovery of Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease. Initially published in the Lancet in 1982, Marshall's work attracted little interest at the time.1 The majority of the medical establishment rejected his work with one prominent gastroenterologist branding him ‘a crazy guy saying crazy things.’ It wasn't until 1994 that the causative association between H pylori and peptic ulcer disease became widely accepted, and the use of eradication therapy transformed the lives of millions of patients worldwide.

The moral of this tale is not that if you wait long enough, your previously ridiculed research will earn you a date in Stockholm, courtesy of the Swedish Academy. Rather, it highlights two important points about research: first, some ideas are ahead of their time and not readily accepted by the scientific community. Second, the impact of new research may take several years to manifest. …

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