Ethics of publishing
Sigh. Just read this post and the related comments over at FSP.
Poor FSP. Again, she is so naive.
So let me give you a little bit of my perspective on this.
FSP is writing about having to take ethics courses and how stupid it is to be forced to take something related to human subjects when you don't even work in the biosciences.
Fair enough. Human subjects are hardly the major issue of ethics in science these days, because studies involving human subjects are governed by rules and reviewed by committees.
And, they can sue.
I would argue instead that the ethics of publishing and the pressure of citation indices, as FSP mentions, are much more dangerous for science as a whole.
I didn't really appreciate the extent of this problem when I started out. I knew it was bad, I heard horror stories. But like FSP, initially I thought they were "bizarre" - as in, outliers. Exceptions. Unlikely. Uncommon.
Now I think otherwise.
1. MPU: minimal publishable unit
Definition: Breaking scientific studies down maximize the number of publications
Pro: More publications in less time
Obvious Con: Usually lower-impact papers
Less Obvious Con: You already have data that contradicts your pet hypothesis, but you leave this out of the first paper and plan instead to publish it in the second paper. It won't fit anyway! Besides, it's okay if you're wrong so long as you're the one who reports it, right?
Advantage: One paper becomes two, potentially both high-impact, and soon!
• Knowingly misleading the field during the time between the first and second publications.
• Temptation to never publish the second paper. Especially if the student defends or the postdoc gets a job based on the first paper.
• The next grad student or postdoc in your lab, or another lab, can't publish their work because it contradicts your paper and you never published the second.
2. Kitchen sink publication
Definition: Cramming tons of data into one big paper, in order to increase chances of overwhelming the reviewer
• This often works, especially at high-impact journals
• Makes use of data that would otherwise never be published
• Makes a non-story look like a really big deal
• Often much of the data that is crammed into the paper does not contribute to the story
• Many middle-authors
• Can only be done with projects that are relatively mature, and/or in larger labs where multiple people contribute parts of figures
Less Obvious Con: Can be used as a way of burying data in supplemental figures that actually contradict the main claim of the paper, while still garnering the credibility of being able to say that all the appropriate experiments and techniques were done
Advantage: High impact paper!
• Misleads the field. It's in a high-impact journal, so it must be true, right?
• Supplemental figures are often not reviewed at all, and generally not held to the same standard as figures in the main text.
• Contradictory data that should have been, at a minimum, an MPU for a student or postdoc, and important for the field, gets eaten by the career (and ego) of the first and last author.
I could go on, but I'll stop there for now. Might write more another time if these don't seem sufficiently scary already.