Saturday, September 19, 2009

Where's my whistle?

This has been a week of uh-ohs.

The refrain that makes me want to hurl, because I've heard it multiple times from different people:

Uh oh, that gel from your collaborator seems to be completely fake

Luckily, none of these cases have affected me directly (yet?), but I have been thinking again about this question of what do you do when you suspect dishonesty in science.

It also got me thinking about how this is probably also contributing to why I'm not appreciated.

Yes, I've said it before and I'll say it again: I really am that good. But I sometimes wonder if the reason most people don't know real expertise when they see it is because they're willing to cut corners and falsify results, so they just assume I'm doing it too?

I'm tired of being treated like I'm mediocre, when at least I know my results are real, and I've had to watch several cases of liars getting High Impact papers and faculty positions.

But there is nothing I can do about it in the absence of hard proof or a confession that they spiked their samples, that the PI pressured them into producing the expected answers, etc.

I don't know what to do in these situations. It's the rare PI who will not get defensive if you even hint that maybe they didn't notice something fishy about that paper their favorite postdoc published last year.

And yet, I'm watching generation after generation of grad students get completely screwed, being made to feel inept when they can't reproduce data that probably never existed in the first place.

So I have to wonder, seriously, if I know a handful of these phonies are now professors, how many are there total? Are there more now than there were before? Will they ever get caught? Why do we tolerate it? How come nobody seems to know??

I also know a few people who left science during or after grad school when their PIs refused to admit that their new data invalidated the old, obviously massaged evidence published by past postdocs. They said they couldn't win, research wasn't what they thought it was, and went off to do other things.

I worry that unless we come up with a mechanism, maybe some kind of anonymous hotline, all of us trusting, honest souls will end up leaving out of sheer disgust, and there won't be any real science left.

And yet, the idea of being able to report people anonymously means you open up the possibility for false accusations. It's too 1984 for me, kids reporting their parents during the Cultural Revolution in China. It could be a whole new form of nastiness. Would that really be worth it?

Obviously, this is why we don't have The Truthiness Police. But I'm worried that science is hemorrhaging from being undercut by those who make it a game of ambition, while laughing at the noble pursuit of excellence.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


At 3:34 PM, Anonymous bob said...

I'm sure there are many cases of unpunished fraud out there. The people committing fraud probably think the results they're inventing correspond to reality and they're often not stupid so is follows that they make up a true result. If other groups confirm the result, there's little way to catch them unless they're sloppy and copy-paste data in different contexts etc. (although even that might be chalked up to honest error if the story overall turns out to be true).

BUT, I also think people throw around accusations of fraud way too often and way too casually. If an experiment is hard, you have to put in time to make it work. I see people all the time that try something a few times, it doesn't work, and they immediately conclude that the original results were made up. I've also seen people concerned that people won't be able to reproduce their results because they know how difficult it was to get them and how sensitive they were to the experimental conditions, but the assumption will be that they lied instead of that they worked hard/had skills.

At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh yes I see this dishonesty in science being perpetuated by PIs all the time. altho sometimes I can't tell when it is outright deliberate lying - driven by desperation to get more funding or out of greed for more career advancement - versus when it's an honest mistake because most PIs have long ago stopped being scientists and no longer have a good grasp on the science that is being done in their labs.

Often my PI would take my data and totally misrepresent it in presentations to make it sound more significant than it really is. I would tell him in private all the caveats to the data, and he would simply brush them all off and make wide sweeiping claims based on it. he sometimes cc's me on e-mails he sends to the funding agencies where he reports on my good data to them (so they will keep funding us). And when I see the discussion between him and the program officers, they over-simplify the science so much. Millions of dollars of funding are being decided based on over-simplified understandings or misrepresentations of the science being done. But hey, this is how funding gets acquired, if it wasn't for this practice none of us would be here today. Meanwhile, the PIs who try to stay truer to their scientific roots (trying to remain real scientists rather than simply lab directors), remain as small-potatoes with not much funding or visibility. But those are the PIs I respect more. I just pity them for having to live in a system that rewards dishonesty and good appearances and punishes real honest and meritorious work. (which is why I'm leaving science once I can get a job elsewhere)

Also, whole generations of grad students erroneously think this is how science should be done (because they see their advisor doing it all the time) and they too go around making huge claims based on shoddy results.

At 4:11 PM, Blogger Thinkerbell said...

I hear you. I'm not one for whistleblowing though, if a scientific argument can't convince people I still have the naive idea that it will all work out in the end and that 'the truth' will persevere. Hopeless romantic, I guess. Yet I still consider these moments at which I learn something: I know that if that's what it takes, then that's not the scientist I want to be. And luckily, I have met some really decent scientists in my career - it is them I try to think of. Not the ones you describe.

At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"those who make it a game of ambition, while laughing at the noble pursuit of excellence."

A-fucking-men. I couldn't said it better myself. jc

At 2:12 AM, Blogger Kea said...

... all of us trusting, honest souls will end up leaving out of sheer disgust, and there won't be any real science left.

Sigh. If only I could leave. I tried to do that ... but the word disgust is unfortunately a poorer description of my feelings than, say, Boundless Anger, Severe Depression or Fighting Spirit. I keep wondering why I'm still alive.

At 4:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

YFS... I do almost always agree with you, but I am beginning to suspect that you have a serious paranoia problem.

I am junior to you... a first year postdoc... and I have a healthy regard for all the terrors that lie out there in the scientific world.

But I will tell you this: the people I have met in science are among the most honest and hardworking. Aggression might run rife among the ranks, but dishonesty doesn't.

Of course, there is the occasional person who will bend this ethic or that in order to get ahead in a desperate job market. But there really aren't so many of them and if you are really "that good", you will not be ignored. Maybe you really aren't "that good", which is fine, because most of us and certainly myself, aren't.

As a scientist, you should make an effort to evaluate yourself in an objective manner. What objective evidence do you have that you are "that good"? Remember that personal revelations do not count.

Deciding beforehand how good you are instead of laying out the evidence on the table and letting the system make a decision is the opposite of the scientific method.

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand what you are saying. I also think that the recent Yale case has something more to tell the larger community regarding science: how it is done, what kind of relationships people have with one another, and the level of trust that people should have. I think that as some of your colleagues who left early enough to see that science just 'wasn't what they thought it would be' were smart to do so. At some point, the whole experience can be deciding whether or not to leave an otherwise abusive relationship. Have you heard of a 'recovering scientist?' There is something to be said for that. We all have to be OK with knowing that science is what it is and that it is OK to leave. Do you want to continue the pyramid scheme?

At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or maybe you just can't face that these people are more qualified than you. Go ahead, publicly accuse your colleagues of fraud without any evidence. Hopefully it will finally end your miserable career of depression, stagnation, and blaming everything that goes wrong on anyone other than yourself.

Excuse me, I have to go hurl.

At 8:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you need to read this...

At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tell. Publish specifics in blog or similar, ask for anyone who has reproduced results. Gather evidence of failures.

Be positive. You are trying to identify the truth, nothing personal. Never use the authors' name, only refer to their "results".

At 12:10 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Bob- exactly what I think.

Anon 3:56- Good points, very true. I'm just wondering, how long do you think you'll last until you can get a job somewhere else? And would you change your mind if you couldn't find something else? And if that happened and somebody handed you a faculty position, would you take it? Then what kind of PI would you be? Because I've seen this happen- people with good intentions, fully aware of what happens vs. what should happen, falling into the trap.

Thinkerbell- I agree, the truth will eventually come out, but what bothers me is how long it can take. It can really set the field back, and lots of good people can lose their jobs/funding in the meantime. I just wonder if we have some obligation to do something about it, we need a mechanism to do so.

I guess I was naive once too, but I recently found out that some of the "decent" ones have not been as honest as I thought they were. It makes me wonder if the distribution of those who make it in science is more skewed (even if the starting population of grad students is more gaussian).

jc- thanks.

Kea- I think I know how you feel. Probably many readers here do. Maybe time to ask yourself if you're being stubborn (maybe a good thing) or insecure about your ability to do other things (not a good thing).

Anon 4:05,

You are junior to me. Read the other comments, and think carefully about whether we are all paranoid, or whether at some point the anecdata-set is large enough to be a significant reflection of reality.

If you've really been reading this blog, then you know that everybody doubts their abilities and the value of our accomplishments. Sometimes it takes longer to realize you're actually better than you thought, but that doesn't make it any less valid when you come to that conclusion.

Anon 7:51,
I'm not sure I know what you mean about the Yale case. I haven't heard more than that it was a grad student and the accused was an animal lab tech. Has more information come out about the relationships or motive involved?

Anon 8:38,
I realized after I wrote this post that surely someone would write this in a comment. Thanks for taking care of that for me.

I think the point is that "qualified", as I've written about extensively, is still a subjective term.

Hope you had a nice hurl.

Anon 8:40,
I will. Thank you for the link.

Anon 11:06,
Interesting suggestion. Unlike some fields, in my field, nobody wants to publish negative results (or maybe we just can't manage to get those kinds of papers accepted?).

At 12:20 PM, Anonymous little fish said...

thank you for posting this! i'm currently an "olderish" second-year graduate student. i spent the first year in my lab attempting to repeat results from a published paper in our lab. i have YET to reproduce the results despite countless days, weeks, and months of protocol optimization and variations on what the original publication showed. on top of that, i'm fending off sabotage from our 'nobel lab' post-doc while my PI pretends nothing is wrong because he "doesn't like confrontation".

no matter how much evidence is built up against this postdoc (from myself as well as 2 other lab techs), the PI has yet to acknowledge that the postdoc has done any wrong. in fact, the postdoc just embarked on an international conference to present a poster WITHOUT ANY OF HIS OWN DATA. where did his images come from? other publications.

are those publications cited?


will anything be done about it?


sometimes i wonder if i SHOULD just get out and find something less deceitful and dishonest.

At 11:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi MsPhD, you said "Anon 3:56- Good points, very true. I'm just wondering, how long do you think you'll last until you can get a job somewhere else? And would you change your mind if you couldn't find something else? And if that happened and somebody handed you a faculty position, would you take it? Then what kind of PI would you be? Because I've seen this happen- people with good intentions, fully aware of what happens vs. what should happen, falling into the trap. "

I'm that anon. well, I think the odds of my being handed a PI position are smaller than the odds of my getting struck by lightning ten times in a row, especially seeing as how I'm not even interviewing for faculty jobs.

You asked if I couldn't find another job if that would change my mind about trying to get a faculty position. I really really doubt it because (a) I have pretty low standards for jobs right now since I'm so incredibly jaded about academia. (b) because getting a PI job is not something one does as a last resort - that would imply that it's so easy to get but undesirable that it's a back up plan, which we all know is the exact opposite of reality.

So nope, I don't think I would ever become a PI, if I couldn't find another job doing something else, I certainly wouldnt' be able to get a PI job either. But like I said, my standards are pretty low right now, pretty much any job that will hire me and pay me more than my postdoc salary, and I'll be happy. (trouble is I haven't even found any employers to respond to me).

At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is Anon @ 4:05 again. I have followed your blog very closely YFS ...for more than a year now.

I agree that several of the incidents that you have described can lead to perfectly justified grievances. But I would still suggest that you look more closely... is it possible that you have ignored the positives? Is it possible that there have been times when your work has been judged better than it was? I bet there have.

I think the people in psychology call it a "reinforcement" (I am in I can't be sure), i.e., you only see the evidence that supports your claim and forget the rest.

Think of it clearly: so what is your conclusion... that people mistreat you for being a woman, they mistreat you because they don't like you personally, your PI is lazy and inefficient, your scientific honesty is a major impediment to your progress because the profession is strewn with liars and cheats AND that you are an extrordinarily talented scientist?

Look at that conclusion again. Is it really plausible? Could ALL of this be true? What are the chances?

As I have said, I am way junior to you. I just started my postdoc this Fall. But I have realized something with time, something that appears to be of consequence. When I was a starting grad student, I was afraid all the time; of speaking to the "stars" (I mean the established big names) and whenever I had a good idea I would try not to talk about it because I was afraid someone would steal it.

But, I learned something. That, even the "stars" were quite nice people, once you managed to break the ice. In fact... it was not uncommon for them to be socially inept and rather humble by my estimation. The "awe" and "airs" they seemed to project were all in my mind. It was the same with "stealing" of ideas ... everyone likes to discuss good ideas and everyone is too busy with his/her own to try stealing those of another. Of course, you could say that my ideas were mediocre, but I came out fairly well in the end, so they couldn't be all that bad.

The fact is, most people in science are "law abiding" in every sense. Look into their backgrounds and they are likely to be the ones who never broke a rule in their lives. As citizens, they are the most harmless people around. You think these people would make for liars and cheats?

At 11:59 AM, Blogger oldtranslations said...

Dear YFS,
I have a situation that I would appreciate some insight on if you are willing to dispense it (and/or have the time...).

To begin, I graduated in May with a BSc in biochemistry and molecular biology. Instead of pursuing grad school right away, I opted to take a year off in order to decide upon a grad program, study more appropriately for the GRE, gain some more work experience, and make some money. I signed a one-year contract with a research institution affiliated with my alma mater. I had worked at this location, in the same lab, for two years of my undergrad. In continuing here, I am now a full-time employee (research assistant). I work 40+ hours per week and have all the benefits of working full-time for a public university.

My recent issues are these: I began working with seven strains of a fairly risky pathogen in my lab about one month ago. The weekend after I performed the first major experiment with these pathogens, I became ill. I missed one week of work and had to go to the ER multiple times. It was confirmed by Public Health that my illness was, in fact, due to the pathogen I work with, although only PFGE will confirm which strain is responsible. I have been back at work for three weeks, although my lab access has been revoked, a move which was initially instilled to prevent re-exposure. However, no mention has been made by any of my superiors as to when my access will be returned and when I will be allowed to return to my lab work. In the mean time, I have been directed to perform random literature searches on our pathogens and to write summaries of recent experiments (which I have long finished).

I obviously realize the incredible stupidity of the situation. However, I followed all safety protocols to the T. I was always very careful working with these organisms (ie, always wearing gloves, washing my hands reguarly, and not touching my face), since I know the very real probability of contracting a potentially fatal infection. I did fail in one regard; I performed a certain portion of the experiment on the benchtop instead of in the BSC. Since my lab works with a variety of pathogens, most of our work is performed on the benchtop. I did this more out of habit than anything. As such, there was the possibility that there was aerosolization of the organisms, although if I had noticed any splashing or so forth, I can assure you that I would have hit the roof and washed everything five times. In addition, since I performed this step less than one day before the onset of symptoms, it is highly unlikely that this was the point of exposure that triggered the infection.

For this mistake, I blame myself entirely. However, my boss and supervisor were in and out of the lab all throughout the day when I was conducting my work, and since it was such a high-profile experiment, would check on my progress periodically. Not once did either of them correct my mistake or pause to ask why I was performing the experiment on the benchtop instead of in the hood. I very much realize that they are extremely busy individuals, and as I said, it was my failure to follow this new protocol, but I would have appreciated the correction. This is not the first time that a situation in our lab has occurred (although none so serious) where our superiors have observed mistakes as they happen, failed to provide direction, then became angry afterward.

At 11:59 AM, Blogger oldtranslations said...

I am angry enough at myself for all of this, but now even more so because I have been humiliated by my superiors and virtually ignored since the proceedings. As I mentioned, I no longer have access to my lab, and my superiors take a week to respond to any questions I have regarding paperwork I have to complete (even though we are a very small department). In addition, I may be stuck with a large medical bill since I have been informed that my workman's comp. claim may be denied. I don't want to complain, but I have given an insane amount of time to the projects I have worked on here. I have sacrificed time and energy, and grades, at times (when I was an undergrad), in order to see projects through. In my two and a half years here, I have not co-authored any publications, although other undergraduates have been invited to do so. I don't kiss my superiors' respective asses, which probably doesn't help, but I like to think that taking the moral high road works out better in the end (example, my boss plays in a random bar band. They have shows nearly every weekend that at least one coworker attends religiously. Sort of a Boys Club type of thing...). I am not nearly so much put out by this as the fact that so much of the work I do goes unnoticed. Now, with my recent illness, I feel as though this is one more nail in the proverbial coffin of my failure as an employee.

If you happen to have any insight into this situation, I would appreciate it. Please feel free to respond here or to: . Thanks for your time.

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But I'm worried that science is hemorrhaging from being undercut by those who make it a game of ambition, while laughing at the noble pursuit of excellence."

So right on target.

Interesting post. To add my data point to the lot, in my 7 years as a grad student I have not seen 1st hand, real, without-a-doubt fraud. I've had some suspicions, but it's always been uncertain enough to give the benefit of the doubt. I've seen a lot of other ethically questionable ambition-driven behaviors, but at least not out-and-out data faking (that I know of).

I wonder how field specific fraudelent or semi-fraudelent behavior is? My impressions are that the more bio you go, the more cases of questionable data handling that occur.

I don't know if bio really has more fraud, but I certainly can see that bio data has so many more unknowns that it's much harder to reproduce it. And you can always say that if someone can't reproduce it, there must be some unknown factor that makes your data different from their data. That's not as true in physics.

Difficult-to-reproduce data would both increase the suspicions of fraud, and make it easier to get away with faking data. And it also makes it hard to draw the line between good cherry-picking of data, and bad cherry-picking.

I guess I'm an optimist and would prefer to think most questionable situations are at least semi-honest mistakes.

At 7:05 PM, Blogger The Mad Chemist said...

It is getting to where you can not trust the results in top journals anymore. If I pull 10 articles from the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS is one of the top journals in chemistry), I am lucky if two work as described. It has been a problem for some time.

At 7:40 AM, Blogger scicurious said...

On the other hand, Sci had to recollect data from a previous person in the lab. The data didn't come out the same (not opposite, but a lot less of an effect than was previously thought). Adviser didn't believe me. I recollected the data FIVE TIMES until she believed me. And now, she always believes me. You can fight it if you have enough data. Though you might pull your hair out in the process.

At 10:17 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

little fish,

What you're describing is not so uncommon. I recently attended a meeting where a Big Fish professor presented almost exclusively figures his lab had published 10 years ago. For an hour. His talk was supposed to be about what they were doing currently- he devoted maybe 1 slide to their latest results.

The sabotaging postdoc- that's horrible and, as far as I know, more unusual. The confrontation-fearing PI? FAR TOO COMMON.

The postdoc presenting data from other publications is much like the PI I describe above. I have seen plenty of people make a poster that is mostly a literature review, but without citations for the figures. Savvy readers will know it, but I see this far too often. I've seen many faculty interview talks where postdocs pretend like everything they're working on is novel, failing to acknowledge all the past work that was done on a topic. What's astounding to me is that there are PI who ENCOURAGE this behavior. They are the insecure, clueless ones who think that acknowledging others' contributions makes them weaker, instead of stronger.

I do wonder if you can get out of that lab sooner rather than later. It sounds like a toxic situation, and 2nd year of grad school is still early enough to switch labs without setting you back too far. Take it from someone who has been stuck in too many toxic situations- get out if you can!

Anon 11:08,

I'm only asking because I've seen this happen at least twice. Two of my guy friends (never women, mind you) who had no intention of staying in academia were offered faculty positions, without even having applied for them. In one case, the guy was in industry, and although he swore he didn't want to be in academia, there were enough other perks that he could rationalize it (good benefits, good location, flexible schedule, etc.).

The other one turned it down and went to industry, and is doing very well now. I hope that you find something soon. I agree that a faculty position is not a backup plan!

Anon 10:00,

You'll see.


I'm not sure what to tell you. What is your question exactly? How to get them to allow you to return to work? Who is to blame? Whether to sue them for your medical coverage?

Anon 2:46,

Physicists have been caught falsifying data and re-using graphs, too. See Anon 10:00, above. Wait long enough, and you'll see. As long as you quit sticking your head in the sand. It's impossible to maintain that kind of denial forever. But I can see how many it is worse in more crowded fields, if only because it is that much more competitive.

mad chemist- yes. but sad to hear that chemistry is that bad.

scicurious- assuming your PI is not crazy or stupid, then yes, of course. assuming the "wrong" data is not too time-consuming to re-test.

then again, there are those PIs who cannot, will not learn, even when faced with a mountain of data showing their previous publications were wrong.

And, it can be a waste of your postdoc (or PhD) to spend the entire time trying to win that kind of battle. You may not get anything more than to force a retraction. Nobody will congratulate you for that. You may not ever get to do a project of your own.

Fight if you can, but choose your enemies and your battles wisely.

This is the kind of thing that, if we had career staff positions, it might make sense to put a senior staff researcher to the task of reproducing the results in question. Not students or postdocs who have a limited amount of time to do what one hopes would be original research.

At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi MsPhD again, you said "Anon 11:08, I'm only asking because I've seen this happen at least twice. Two of my guy friends (never women, mind you) who had no intention of staying in academia were offered faculty positions, without even having applied for them. In one case, the guy was in industry, and although he swore he didn't want to be in academia, there were enough other perks that he could rationalize it (good benefits, good location, flexible schedule, etc.).

I'm that same anon again.

In my field (solid state physics and semiconductor device engineering) - it seems that when people get "offered" faculty positions without even applying or asking, it's usually only because they are senior powerful people in industry, i.e. the industry equivalent of a tenured PI. If you've worked in industry as an engineer but without taking on high-level management or directorship type positions (positions where you are the boss in charge of large sums of money and large numbers of people, i.e. a job that is more management-focused than science-focused), it's highly unlikely you will ever be "offered" a faculty job just like that, UNLESS it's as an adjunct teaching faculty. Which is compeltely different from being a PI. Maybe it is different in your academic field and the related industries?

At 5:34 PM, Anonymous JaneDoh said...

I agree that scientific integrity is a big problem. I am a new prof in the physical sciences, and I am very nervous that I will trust one of my students who will feed me bad data. This is the first time I will be reliant on data that I haven't personally collected, and I think about this issue often. I am trying to instill a lab culture where we brainstorm on how to solve roadblocks so I don't fall into the trap of only awarding good results with attention.

As for repeatability, I think you long for good old days that never were. When I was an undergrad researcher in the early 90's, everyone complained that it was really hard to replicate results. I don't even think this is malicious (mostly). It is so hard to write down all the details, because once you become an expert, things that seem minor and obvious to you will be overlooked in the writeup. When I want to learn something quickly, it is always better to go in person to watch than to try to replicate something from a publication. Especially a glamour mag publication.

My field has had at least one major, infamous fraud problem, but I think this is more of an exception than a general rule. I HAVE seen a lot of shortcuts taken, conclusions drawn from limited data (that isn't always repeated), and overselling of minor results. I am not sure that this is getting worse, or that you just notice it more as you become experienced in your field.

I still think you should leave your lab and try for a national lab position (competitive, but you can get in via networking). From there, you can work on what you want to, get rid of your PI problem, and generate a good track record for moving back into academia.

At 11:46 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 3:34,

Yes, in both of these cases these guys are younger (my age group = 30s-early 40s), but they both had certain skills that the university wanted. Not clear that both would have been tenure-track; and they both knew people. It was totally a buddy-system recruitment thing, as in "I like you, you seem willing to do what I want, I like having guys like you around, why not stay?"

(note that I have to assume I am not being offered positions this way because a) by definition, I'm not privy to being part of the buddy system, b) I am not willing to do what they want, and c) they don't want to have me around) LOL


Great sentiment about lab culture of brainstorming. The best labs do that.

I've already had the experience of getting data collected by others, and I agree, it is stressful at first as you figure out how to assess, how much to trust, etc.

Interesting point about data not being reproducible. In my field, we would never get anywhere if it was entirely impossible. We take good notes for a reason. But I totally agree about watching people do it. I also agree about noticing it more as you become more experienced in your field.

I'm not sure if you are talking to me about a national lab position, or to someone else. National labs for my field means NIH and associated Institutes. Not necessarily any easier to get a good position there than at a university. The other places (LBL?) have the reputation of being even worse than where I am now.

At 2:21 AM, Blogger Mocklion said... can say what you want to Anon @10:00 (=Anon @4:05) but here is one example of your paranoia.

Remember the jerk who told Mr. PhD to quit his postdoc and get a real job so you could stay at home?

You noticed that he seemed to think your scientific career was less important because you were the wife.

Did you notice that he/she also thought that Mr. PhD's scientific career was less important and than his stereotypical duty of being the "hunter gatherer"? In other words, he/she actually advised BOTH of you to quit, but you seemed to hear only one half of what he said.

Just my 2 cents. I have no $$ anyway :)

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

how NIH rates its grants? R01 is considered the best?

At 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Did you notice that he/she also thought that Mr. PhD's scientific career was less important and than his stereotypical duty of being the "hunter gatherer"? In other words, he/she actually advised BOTH of you to quit, but you seemed to hear only one half of what he said."

Actually no, by your own admission that person insinuated that only MsPhD should quit working and stay at home. That person said her husband should quit his postdoc in order to get a better job, not in order to stay home.

At 6:09 PM, Blogger Becky said...

Hello - just started reading your blog. I'm starting my second year as a grad student (physics) and haven't even given a thought to what comes after the Ph.D. Love your blog, though. Entertaining AND insightful!

Random question - You have very good confidence in your abilities. Some of your commenters seem to take offense at this, but I think it's a highly useful trait to have as a scientist.

I, on the other hand, feel like a moron everyday. How did you develop such a positive attitude about yourself?

At 8:17 AM, Blogger Unbalanced Reaction said...

Very timely in light of the recent reports of plagiarism by Kamran Daneshjou:

At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've been following this blog for a few years now and am impressed with your staying power. Have you ever thought about getting out of the lab and starting something like this website full-time, ie., recording, validating, and then investigating unethical behavior, shoddy publications, or bad science in general?

Given the mountain of publications that are about to explode out of China, India and Southeast Asia, surely a need for this exists - if the "Faculty of 1000" can make a nice bonus reviewing and highlighting what they believe to be the cream of the crop, surely a crack group of anonymous postdocs and ex-postdocs can do the same with the crud that continues to hide out in the good journals? Let me know if you do and I'll subscribe, and I'm sure many other readers would too.

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Maggie May said...

This is a world I don't occupy but is fascinating to me

At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wisdom from MsPhD

"The central principle of research, as far as I can tell, is knowing what you know and what you don't know, and then figuring out how to fill in what you don't know."

Best description I've heard.


At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice that somebody else notices this. My views on scientific fraud:

1. Most of it -- at least that I am aware of -- is what I'll call backdoor fraud. Mistakes are made and not caught, papers are published, grants are won, then the creeping suspicions that something's not right, but the PI usually decides to close the ears and shut the eyes.

2. Much of it is eventually ferreted out, because it's not reproducible. What seems like a great result at first becomes less and less believable when nothing more comes of it. This does work on reputations, in a slow and methodical way, rather than a big and splashy one.

3. It's horrible how much of this goes on in science, but we should remember that science is honest as hell compared to, say, business, where effective lying goes on your resume in all caps.

4. None of this makes the situation any better when it happens to you. I managed to win a fairly prestigious postdoctoral fellowship, working for a famous scientist in my field -- I was put on a project that I quickly realized was based on pure bullshit. I tried to explain it to the boss, who was having none of it. Have spent the past year and a half making lemonade. Have produced some sound (honest) science, but nothing high-impact. It looks like it's off to postdoc #2 for me instead of a permanent position.

I think the way to do something about the situation is to make it less suicidal in our business to admit you made a mistake. I can identify only very few instances where any scientist of any stature had the guts to admit that they were wrong on something. Problem is, science is really hard, and most of us are wrong much more often than we are right. This means the literature is full of incorrect conclusions. Yet for somebody to admit they made a mistake is considered to be suicidal. I think research would move faster if that were not the case.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home