Ethics question of the day
I don't know whether to file this under NIH, but maybe it's something they should find a way to address.
Which is worse?
a) agreeing to review a paper which you know competes with a colleague of yours (conflict of interest)?
b) not telling your colleague that you know they're about to get scooped by this paper you agreed to review (breach of confidentiality)?
How often do you think this happens?
d) way more often than you want to know about
On my mind today is the moral aspect of science. Some of us actually do it to try to help improve the world, and in doing that we also feel some obligation to make the academy, as one astute commenter put it, "fairer".
It strikes me as interesting that many of the industry trolls are defensive about their choices. I don't mean to imply that people who go to industry are in any way bad people. I'm just saying it's not what I want. So why the big fuss over what I write here?
There are three major groups of people who have commented on this blog thus far:
a) people who want to see me quit, because they think I'll be happier
b) people who are in a similar boat to me
c) people who are afraid they'll be in my boat soon enough and are wondering if they can get out now
To those of us who are already in the boat, I love the comments in support of improving the academy. I really need to hear, at least once in a while, that I'm not in this alone.
For those who have chosen to leave academics, good for them if they're happier. It's clear from the comments and continuing interest in this blog (and the few who have recently jumped ship, good riddance!) that there's always agony in the choice and some may even still regret it.
But it makes me downright angry when they belittle my wanting to make the system fairer.
Where on earth are they going to get people to hire into their companies if the academy goes away completely? And isn't it a worthy goal to want to make the process of evaluating science and scientists more... scientific? Objective, even?
Okay, so maybe I sound a little martyred some days. I'm sorry for that because it is disgusting in its own way. There are a lot of days when I'm not sure if I should choose to fall on my sword.
I just wonder what will happen if science continues to get worse, and nobody wants to make it better?
Right now in my field, there's a weird phenomenon in progress. Several papers have come out in the last year that all make the same, erroneous claim, for different reasons. It's bizarre because they all use the other papers to support their claim, and none of them address previous publications to the contrary.
I can only conclude that they've all be reviewing each other's papers, and seen each other at meetings presenting the work, so they might have even agreed to publish around the same time, figuring there would be strength in numbers.
What's sad is that they're all fooling themselves, and neither the editors at these journals nor anyone outside the field appears to be aware of it in the slightest.
I've spoken with some of them about the discrepancies and they're just defensive about it, have no interest whatsoever in getting the right answer to the scientific question.
Instead they're closing ranks, and in some ways this is the scariest thing I've ever seen in science.
For those of you who have been reading these blogs, you know that's saying a lot.
It's kind of like groupthink, where they all point to each other as justification for believing something that just isn't true. It must be true because everyone believes it, right?
Since everyone has a job or a grant at stake all the time now, they have every reason to defend their publications and no reason to want to set the record straight.
Is that corruption? Or just a total lack of morality? Aren't those the same thing?
Until we figure out how to prevent things like this from happening, science is screwed, and so is anyone else hoping to get cures for human diseases.
Who knows how long these kinds of fairy tales are going to derail research and send it in the wrong direction? How many papers and grants are going to be triaged because they appear to conflict with "the bulk of the current literature"?
And doesn't anybody give a damn?
And if they did, would there be a way to do anything about it?
It's not as if there's a governing body that would review the evidence and sort out things like this.
(I was going to say Supreme Court until I remembered the recent Ledbetter decision... and I realized that wouldn't solve anything because you can always still stack the courts).
One idea I was discussing yesterday with a friend would be to require a more thorough review of the literature when papers are submitted.
If most editors at the top journals aren't actually educated in the fields they're publishing, and they don't know the politics well enough to realize they're sending papers to all the wrong people to review, the least they could do is check.