Posts Tagged ‘scientific misconduct’

Research Ethics and Project Proposal Reviews

September 24, 2008

Dr. Free-Ride at Adventures in Ethics and Science has a must-read essay (which, I understand is the first in a series of two posts) on research ethics:

In the U.S., the federal agencies that fund scientific research usually discuss scientific misconduct in terms of the big three of fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism (FFP). These three are the “high crimes” against science, so far over the line as to be shocking to one’s scientific sensibilities.

But there are lots of less extreme ways to cross the line that are still — by scientists’ own lights — harmful to science. Those “normal misbehaviors” emerge in a 2006 study by Raymond De Vries, Melissa S. Anderson, and Brian C. Martinson [1]:

We found that while researchers were aware of the problems of FFP, in their eyes misconduct is generally associated with more mundane, everyday problems in the work environment. These more common problems fall into four categories: the meaning of data, the rules of science, life with colleagues, and the pressures of production in science. (43)

This rather lengthy post discusses the first two aspects of misbehaviour stated above, namely, meaning of data and rules of science, and as I said, is a must-read. I look forward to the next piece in the series.

Drug Monkey tackles the question, namely, whether junior reviewers are too focussed on details while reviewing project proposals, and whether such obsession with details, if any, affects the reviewing process and quality (well, the short answers are may be and no):

The argument against the more-junior reviewers on NIH study section review that is the most amenable to discussion is that the younger people are unable to see the forest for the trees. Unable to take the broad view. Have a tendency to focus on details and grantsmanship issues in preference to the quality of the science (wot, wot?). I will note the evidence for this is quite lame, as there are never any studies or CSR datasets being referenced. What I do hear generally follows the following trends.

  1. The comically flawed assumption that the PI in question knows which of the critiques of their grants were written by less-tried investigators.
  2. The perspective of the PI’s experience with the (1?, 3?) Assistant Professors in their Department who give them informal comments on their own grant.
  3. Occasionally some direct study section experiences in which it is claimed that the Assistant Professors focus on detail too narrowly.

For argument’s sake, let us credit these observations and ask why this might be the case.

Take a look!

Update: The second part of Dr. Free-Ride’s post is also up. Needless to say, a must-read too.

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Responsibilities of co-authors

November 3, 2007

Nature has an editorial as to

How the responsibilities of co-authors for a scientific paper’s integrity could be made more explicit.

It has several interesting things to say about co-authorship, the responsibilities of all the co-authors as to the contents and correctness of what is reported in the paper and so on. Finally, they also make a suggestion:

We suggest that journals should require that every manuscript has at least one author per collaborating research group who will go on record in a way that collectively vouches for the paper’s standards.

They go on to indicate who should sign such an undertaking:

Principal investigators traditionally bask in the glory of a well-received paper. We are proposing now that they willingly open themselves to sanctions that could be brought to bear should the paper turn out to have major problems.

I think the key word here is “principal investigator”; if it is not made mandatory for the PIs to sign such a declaration, I can think of one particular form of abuse that this system is prone to, keeping in mind some of the recent incidents that I have come across. For example, in the Anna University plagiarism scandal, one of the co-authors, who happens to be a student is reported to have said that

… he believes he was made a scapegoat in the entire affair and added that his mouth was sealed because he was a student.

Or, in other words, if one of the co-authors is forced to sign such a declaration, and, if the hierarchy in the University/Institution where she/he works is such that she/he has no choice but to sign such a declaration, then it makes it much more easier for the senior co-author to exploit the same to pin the blame on a junior colleague, should something go wrong. One way to overcome this problem is to make it mandatory that the senior-most person in the hierarchy sign such a declaration. Pinning the responsibility on the senior co-author also makes sense when we remember scandals like this, involving researchers who are at the pinnacle of the scientific administration pyramid.