Yesterday I published a post with suggestions for ways junior scientists could offer some push-back to ethical shenanigans by senior scientists in their field. While admittedly all of these were “baby-steps” kind of measures, the reactions in the comments are conveying a much grimmer picture of scientific communities than one usually gets talking to senior scientists in person. For example:
[N]one of your suggestions above would work. Those are all things that we tried. But when the people in a position to do something about it are being rewarded either by their silence or by their complicity, all of the things you suggest have effects ranging from nothing to career suicide.
My experience, sad as it sounds, is that as a junior person in a corrupt research area has two choices: accept the fact that they’re going to get screwed, or find a different field.
So now, I’d like to have a word with the senior scientists.
Where the hell are you?!
In your field, is it the case that senior people never take advantage of junior people — never sink their grant proposals to protect their own scientific turf, never steal their results or ideas, never cut them out of credit, nothing but scientific good will all around?
If so, please advise of us your field so the budding scientists looking for an optimal experience know where to go.
Or, do you hear the occasional complaint within your field about senior people who take advantage of junior people, or who fudge their data, or who engage in other practices that you think it would be better not to engage in?
What do you do when you hear these complaints? I’m not just asking what kind of advice you give to others who might be making these complaints — I’m asking what do you do?
Do you have first-hand knowledge of people in your field working outside of “best practices” (even if what you’re seeing probably falls short of official definitions of scientific misconduct)? How do you respond to what you see, and why do you respond the way you do?
Do you have a close colleague who has a reputation as dancing on the edge of ethical behavior (or even of crossing the line from time to time)? Does this ever come up in your interactions with this colleague? If so, what do you say about it to him or her? If not, why not?
Do you think getting along with your senior colleagues, your administrators, your bosses, should take priority over making sure all those colleagues are playing by the rules (which is to say, doing good research, presenting truthful results, and not taking advantage of other scientists in the process)?
If you’re committed to the idea that people ought to play by those rules, are you doing anything to make things harder for people who don’t? Are you doing anything to help your fellow scientists — especially the junior ones — when they stand up to misbehavior?
I keep hearing — and I really believe — that most scientists are serious about doing good science and behaving ethically. Let’s hear from some of those good scientists at the top of the food chain that the game isn’t run by the scoundrels.