There has been some recent discussion on the blogs and on Facebook about the tension an adviser might experience between paying attention to graduate students and doing the other stuff you are supposed to do, or from the student perspective, how to deal with getting that quality time from your adviser.

Much of this discussion is in the area of standard NIH funded lab-ratty science which is a world that I am only marginally familiar with. But that is not the only kind of science that is done, and these issues permeate academia beyond the sciences. There are built-in tensions between doing the right thing and doing the right thing, where, often, the former is the right thing for yourself (directly) and the latter is the right thing for your students (and thus, indirectly, yourself… but only indirectly.)

I normally ignore much of this blogospheric discussion because I find it disturbing and of little relevance to me or anyone I know. Presumably because NIH funded research is so vast, most of the discussion seems to be about how to deal with that environment. Over the last year or so I’ve actually worked a bit with mainly NIH and Medical Industry funded labs in a couple of different capacities, and my wife works in a highly specialized medical research lab now, so I know enough to understand that when we talk about “young investigators” or the demographics of science training and professionalization (and retirement and so on) that the majority of this drama is being carried out in a world that is different from the one I’m interested in or know much about. Also, I find certain aspects of that world rather disturbing. For instance, the insistence that it is ethical to have one’s name on a paper using data collected with an expensive machine that you got the funding for, where you had nothing else to do with that paper, is disturbing, offensive, and … well, if it were not so demented it would make me laugh. That kind of thinking certainly kicks the moral stilts out from anyone who practices this form of intellectual theft. But I digress.

My first graduate adviser, Glynn Isaac, was quite experienced and began his relationship with a brand new crop of graduate students at Harvard with the idea of a very fresh start. He was coming to Harvard from Berkeley, and most of us were starting out as new grad students, so it was fresh for all of us, and one had the sense that Glynn wanted to do things in a way improved over his prior experience. (Two student came with Glynn from Berkeley, so their relationship was a bit different.) Glynn knew that it would be difficult to maintain regular and systematic contact with his students, so he set up a system. Every Wednesday, without fail, each of us was to meet with him no matter what. There was a sign-up sheet on the door. In the event of a scheduling issue for that Wednesday, there were some other times we could use to do a makeup meeting.

So we started out this process at the beginning of the semester. I remember my first meeting with him on week 2 of graduate school. I also remember my last meeting with him. On week 2 of graduate school. Every other time there was a note on the door: “Sorry, meetings canceled” or words to that effect. Every. Other. Time.

This does not mean that I did not have a lot of interactions with Glynn. I actually did have a fair amount of interaction. I was his “special assistant” (like a teaching assistant sort of) for his Intro Archaeology class. John Shea and I had set up a nice flint knapping arena in my old archaeology lab, and Glynn worked there quite a bit with his flint knapping class and with various visiting scholars. Glynn and his wife Barbara Isaac had regular parties at their house, and that always involved sitting around with Glynn smoking something (he would smoke a cigar, some of us cigarettes) by the fireplace and chatting. I took a class from him. Some of our longest interactions were out on the North or South Shore making hand axes for hours at a time.

There was one such time I remember very well. There were about eight of us down below high tide line at Marblehead, Mass. Marblehead is a head of land (that’s a coastal/nautical term) made of rhyolite, which is a workable stone for making stone tools. We were harvesting the rhyolite to use in the lab, but also, we were making a lot of stone tools on the spot. If you are at a source, you might as well spend several hours working the rock. This gives you a much better idea of what to bother taking home, and you can waste a lot of material playing around with it but not pay the usual transport costs.

I remember two things especially well that day. First, as we were pounding and pounding and making stuff, the ocean was glass calm, which is very rare for the Atlantic. And the air was a bit cool for that time of year, and there was almost no breeze. Suddenly, I noticed little tiny wisps of fog out over the water, distributed sort of randomly (but actually rather more uniformly than randomly), each about three feet above the water, almost invisible. I said to Glynn and one of the students, “Watch the water. Something you don’t see every day is about to happen.” They watched.

Suddenly, the wisps, all of them at the same time, grew. They became visibly continuous with the surface of the sea, and grew in height, and breath, and then there were no more wisps … just continuous fog, five feet think, covering the ocean from view. In a few moments a modest breeze came up and the fog lifted off the sea, then was disrupted and dispersed. A clear crisp day by the ocean was thus converted to a misty foggy day by the ocean. (What we experienced usually happens at night and is much less visible.)

After the fog found its place, the second thing happened. There we were at the base of this low cliff over the sea, down in the low tide zone making dozens and dozens of stone tools. More experienced flint knappers were instructing the novices, and everyone was exchanging ideas and showing each other their products.

Glynn was at the center of all of it, reveling in the experience of actualistic archaeology, as it was called … doing the paleolithic in the present. Glynn was a small man, bald on top with his pattern baldness ring of hair diving into a full beard. His facial features were rugged yet slight, and he was slim yet tough in his smallness. In other words, for Glynn to dress up for Halloween as an elf, well, he could probably just put on an elf hat OR curly shoes and that would be all he would need. (Indeed, he and his twin brother were once arrested in Austria on suspicion of being elves.)

Glynn also had the habit of putting his hand on top of his head as he spoke. So did Louis Leakey. So there are all these photographs of Louis Leakey and Glynn Isaac talking to each other, four or five photos in a row from one bull session, with the two of them alternating who’s got the hand on the head, elbow raised to the side, chattering away about some archaeological issue.

And Glynn was very quick witted, had a thick colono-British accent, and a bit of a gravelly voice.

So it was funny when the couple … the man and woman of 32 years of age or so, yuppies in the days when yuppies ran the world (or thought they did) out for their mid day stroll along the shore, stopped at the top of the cliff and watched us for a while. Tap tap tap tap clunk, scrape tap tap tap ouch tap clunk, and so on, as we detached flakes, shaped blobs of stone into spear heads, and hurt ourselves now and then.

And the young man ventured to say, “Excuse me, but I need to ask … What are you people doing down there?”

Glyn half turned to the man. The hand went to the head. And in his elfin gravelly voice,

“We’re survivalists!!!”

Half turn back to the rocks, pick up a new hammer stone, and we continued…

…. Tap tap tap tap clunk, scrape tap tap tap ouch tap clunk, and so on…

The yuppies wandered off. Amazed, I’m sure.

That is how it was for half a summer, a Fall semester, and a Spring semester. Then, at the end of the Spring semester, I went to the field, and near the year’s end received the telegram, three months after it had been sent. Glynn had died on an air strip in China. By the time I got the telegram, the autopsy was done, the ceremonies were over, the gathering of arcahaeologists and africanists from around the world to honor him posthumously had happened, and the decision had already been more or less made to bring Ofer Bar Yosef in as resident paleolithic archaeologist in the Peabody Museum. When I got home another couple of months later the crying was done except on the occasional quiet lonely night in the Stone Age Lab.

I still have one of those notes, scrawled in his big script on a half sheet of lined yellow paper.

“Greg – Can’t make this week’s meeting. Please reschedule! … GLlI”

Comments

  1. #1 Greg Laden
    July 22, 2009

    Commenting is turned on!!!

  2. #2 Eric
    July 22, 2009

    Ah… I love the sound of the flintknapping…

  3. #3 Dimitri
    July 22, 2009

    I think getting graduate students together in groups works better. Takes less time, faculty more likely to attend, and if they don’t, they are missed less.

  4. #4 kurt
    July 22, 2009

    Great story!

  5. #5 David Lee
    July 22, 2009

    Nice story with some music in the background. John Mellencap and some zydeco number streaming.

  6. #6 Andrew
    July 23, 2009

    People don’t really “ethically” put their names on papers just because they bought the gear, do they?

  7. #7 AnnieT
    July 23, 2009

    Sad

  8. #8 Steve
    July 23, 2009

    Marblehead … always good for a picnic. And some stone spears.

  9. #9 lon cheney
    July 23, 2009

    the man and woman of 32 years of age or so, yuppies in the days when yuppies ran the world (or thought they did

    Had they just come from fern bar and were they on their way to the wine tasting?

  10. #10 Robert
    July 23, 2009

    Andrew: Actually, yes.

  11. #11 Nancy
    July 23, 2009

    “tap tap OUCH”??? Very funny. It is easy if not reading carefully to miss your humor sometimes.

  12. #12 J.C.
    July 23, 2009

    flint knapping = lots of bleeding

  13. #13 Comrade PhysioProf
    July 23, 2009

    For instance, the insistence that it is ethical to have one’s name on a paper using data collected with an expensive machine that you got the funding for, where you had nothing else to do with that paper, is disturbing, offensive, and … well, if it were not so demented it would make me laugh.

    Nice strawman, dude. Show me where anyone has insisted this.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    CPP: Do you want me to give you a stack of published papers in which this is what happened? If I trusted you, I could do that. I find it hard to believe that you are unaware of this situation.

  15. #15 Comrade PhysioProf
    July 23, 2009

    (1) How does looking at a published paper tell you whether one of the authors who obtained funding for a piece of equipment had “nothing else to do with that paper”?

    (2) Even if you could reach the conclusion that an author who obtained funding for a piece of equipment truly did have “nothing else to do with that paper”, how would that tell you anything about whether anyone has “insist[ed] that it is ethical”?

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    You are being your usual shit-ass nitpicking sophist self, Physioprof, you moron. I think I’m a bit older than you, fuckhead, and I’ve been in the fucking business for quite some time. I do not infer this from seeing a fucking paper, that would be fucking absurd. I’m going on what people fucking tell me, on what I’ve fucking seen, on what I’ve fucking experienced. Your fucking denial that this is a fucking issue is fucking astonishing.

    Do you really think that? Do you? Do you fucking really think that? Really? Really?

    As to the issue of what is considered fucking ethical and not, there is fucking quite a fucking bit of discussion on the blogosphere about this fucking shit, and it is clear that doing work on a paper and being a fucking writer or substantive contributor on a paper are not one and the same. They do not fucking correlate.

    I’m not going to fucking argue this fucking point with you. If you have a fucking problem with it, fuckhead, go to your fucking alter-ego DrugMoney and work it out with him. Start here:

    “The idea that lab heads who didn’t “do” anything on a project–design or perform experiments or write the manuscript–should not be authors is completely fucking ridiculous. Who created and maintained the conceptual, methodological, and physical environment within which the project was performed? That merits authorship.”

    Fuck that shit man.

    You really are the dumbest fuckass I’ve ever heard of.

  17. #17 Andrew
    July 23, 2009

    It is very common for senior scientists who have written grants to fund labs to be listed as an author of a paper done in said lab, and it is considered normal and ethical as far as I know.

  18. #18 Comrade PhysioProf
    July 23, 2009

    HAHAHAHAHAH! You’re the best, Greg!!!

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    Its done with a macro. A fucking macro.

  20. #20 Guy
    July 23, 2009

    To un-hijack the thread for a moment, just like for science outreach and for that matter teaching, I am not sure that paying attention to graduate students beyond the basic minimum is covered on the list of things to do to get tenure or promotion.

    Publication is, of course.

    Oh. Never mind, the thread wasn’t really that hijacked after all was it?

  21. #21 Dr. Feelgood
    July 23, 2009

    You are being your usual shit-ass nitpicking sophist self, Physioprof, you moron. I think I’m a bit older than you, fuckhead, and I’ve been in the fucking business for quite some time.

    You’ve been in this business a long time, Greg. As an “academic advisor” sitting in a cube, pretending that you play a serious role in the education of students and playing professor on the interwebz in your copious spare time.

    PhysioProf might be a gigantic cock, but he’s more likely to have had the experience to know what he’s talking about. You, I imagine, read a lot of blogs.

  22. #22 Jason Thibeault
    July 23, 2009

    I daresay CPP just got owned in his native tongue. Hey Greg, what language is that macro in? Can I have a copy? Please, I beg of you!

  23. #23 Jason Thibeault
    July 23, 2009

    So what Greg does on the interwebs is “playing around with [his] copious spare time”, whereas what Dr. Feelgood and PhysioProf do is Serious Business.

    I see how it works now.

  24. #24 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    Dr. Feelgood (Janet), you are quite out of line. You are speaking out of ignorance, but very much in keeping with the Kliqueon philosophy of reading Greg Laden’s record, statements, and presumed intentionality as negatively (and conveniently) as possible. I can’t believe you have the balls to call yourself an expert on ethics, yet you play these games.

    I’ve supervised quite a few graduate students, at the MA and PhD level, thank you very much. I continue to do so. Your denigration of my particular career path and choices is extraordinarily offensive. Do you give the same shit to others? To people who have families instead of careers? To people who support their spouses instead of making everyone around them secondary to their academic goals? Seriously? Give me a break.

    And are you seriously going to sit there and decide that it is OK for you to pass judgment on me?

    Now, I suspect that we are going to see the wagons pull up into a circle around this idea that it is OK to rip off people’s intellectual work. What a waste of time. You should be ashamed of yourself, “Dr. Feelgood”. If your puppeteer ever hears about this she’ll be pissed because I’m sure she would not condone your academonormative criticism of other people who sometimes make choices other than the standard career path or your post hoc justification of intellectual theft.

  25. #25 Liz
    July 23, 2009

    Meh. I used to take Janet Stemwedel fairly seriously. But I have not for a long time.

  26. #26 Andrea
    July 23, 2009

    How do you get arrested for being an elf?

    ….

    Oh, never mind…

  27. #27 Nat
    July 23, 2009

    umm, Dr. Feelgood doesn’t equal Dr. FreeRide.

  28. #28 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    oops.

    Sorry. Well, in your mind, adjust the above comment as needed.

  29. #29 Scicurious
    July 23, 2009

    Hi Greg,

    I’ve got to agree with Physioprof’s main point here (the one he was making before the whole thing went crazy off-topic). In the biomedical sciences, it’s extremely common for someone who donated, say, a custom made drug, a custom made mouse, or a super-fancy piece of equipment to be on the paper, even if they didn’t contribute to the actual ideas or experiments of the paper. When you think about it, it’s not that messed up. Those people put in a LOT of time creating that drug or mouse, or training you to run that super piece of equipment, and without them (and their drug or mouse), the experiments in the paper simply couldn’t have been done. It seems only right to put them on the paper. Similarly with being in someone’s lab and having them provide the funding. They are providing space and materials, and without them, the experiment could not go forward. So they go on the paper. It doesn’t seem like a particularly messed up system to me, but then again, I AM in it.

  30. #30 Nat
    July 23, 2009

    Also, our community standards on authorship are evolving to allow some degree of difference in the degree of credit that each person on the list deserves.

    It’s not perfect, and it’s still evolving. I have some misgivings about it. But it’s clearly not anywhere in the league of “write equipment grant=get big authorship.”

    Which is itself quite distinct from CPP’s quote you threw back at him; he didn’t limit the PIs contribution to solely financial.

  31. #31 becca
    July 23, 2009

    SB dramu maven chiming in:
    I thought Dr. Feelgood was the hilarious guy I met at the DM meetup who asked me to marry him. Or is is this like that time when everyone was Janet, or was it Janet who was everyone???
    Also, given that doc F is already married, I don’t think he calls himself an expert on ethics. Perhaps an expert on snarky comments.
    Just keep laughing Greg.

    Relatively on topic:
    I think being a professor is a little bit like being a parent. If done correctly, it involves a major commitment to students (your academic children) and yet it often consists primarily of getting out of the way once they are ready (or perhaps just slightly before they are ready; I’ll grant the timing is tricky).

  32. #32 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    Sci: I understand that there is precedence, and there may even be reasons for it, but I feel that it is not always appropriate. Authorship becomes meaningless, responsibility becomes vague, credit becomes a matter of some formulaic approch (see DM’s post for the formulas) that systematically excludes contributors (mere technitians) and systematically accredits people for things they did not, in fact, do.

    Humans may not be that smart as a species, but a long time ago it could have been worked out … a way to give appropriate credit that is not authorship, to the lab-makers.

    I think that what we have here is systematic controlled ignorance (oh, we can’t figure out some other way!!! What other than taking authoship will we do???) being used as a tool to gain publication numbers because publication numbers = career advancement. It is rather obvious, in fact.

    Do senior investigators divide the papers they have their names on into different categories with evidence backing up their classification based on what they actually did on the paper (like, “nothing, but it was my mouse”) in your field? In some fields that is starting to be required, as a reaction to this multi-authorship problem. Also, authorship is often described in details these days, as to who really did what. These changes are a reaction to the fact that senior people with the power to take authorship even if they did not author is inappropriate. In other words, even the system itself recognizes what I’m saying as wrong.

    You point out the magic mouse and so on. I think there really are times and places for an author to be added because of a technology they “authored.” Getting grants for your lab does not cut it, ethically, for me. Having a special mouse would IF the donator of the mouse also at least looked at and critiqued the methods section. The day that the mouse becomes routine, though, your authorship is not routine.

  33. #33 B.B.
    July 23, 2009

    Yeah, well, it does not matter too much who said it, it was still totally out of line. As a former student of the man I can tell you that he is legendary in his commitment to students and he has in fact helped me attain grants, jobs, and other things I feel I would never have had access to.

  34. #34 thom
    July 23, 2009

    The question is, HOW do you arrest an Elf, what with their special powers and all.

  35. #35 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    Becca: I get what you mean with the children analogy, but I feel a little uncomfortable thinking of my students as my children. Or at least, some of my students would kick my ass if I did that. But I do get your point.

  36. #36 CyberLizard
    July 23, 2009

    Wait, are we talking a biological mouse, the squeaky little furry things that poop in your hand, or a computer mouse? ‘Cause I totally was envisioning a computer mouse until just now. And I was thinking, what kind of special mouse would you need to do scientific research? Obviously a one-button mac mouse wouldn’t be sufficient, but what special features would a scientific mouse have?

  37. #37 horace
    July 23, 2009

    If “authorship” means “authorship” in the tenure and promotion process, then it should mean “authorship” when it is assigned. I wonder how many people are tenured on the basis of getting lucky with grants. Perhaps CPP is so sensitive to this issue because he is one of them!!!!! HAHAHAHAAHA!!!1!!11!

  38. #38 Scicurious
    July 23, 2009

    I do see your point with regard to separating out what people “did” or “didn’t” do on a paper. With most of the people who create the novel drugs or mice, most people who know the lit in that area know that they’re on the paper for that reason. Still, authors in most fields will see at least the final draft of the manuscript and be given ample opportunity to comment and edit. It’s pretty much required that they have a hand in the writing process to get on the paper.

    As far as technicians, I have seen many reasons to or not to include technicians (or undergrads or grad students), and usually it comes down to whether or not that person made a significant intellectual contribution that contributed in a meaningful way to the paper. Running the experiment only doesn’t count. Basically, as I understand it, if it’s something that anyone could have done (running the gel), then no authorship. But a highly skilled technician with an intellectual stake in the paper and completely irreplaceable set of skills should, IMO, be put on the paper.

    I understand that gaining publications just to advance your career (we call these “paper weasels”, those people who ALWAYS end up worming their way onto your paper) is a system that can be abused, and is. But authors who created something great, and give it to others for further experiments, I think that something that SHOULD be considered for career advancement, as this person has done something material to advance their field, and is also spreading that knowledge to others. And currently, the way we measure that is by publications. There may indeed be a better way, but I don’t think the way we’re doing it is going to cause death to scientific progress.

    And yes, when the mouse is routine, or the drug is mass produced, all names are off.

    As for grants, and funding from the lab, usually the person is on the paper because their grant paid for the work (the work was covered and is a PART of the grant that is supposed to be completed). Is the whole lab (with all their grants) on the paper? Not unless they also had a significant contribution.

  39. #39 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    Nat: Right, as I just noted, the fact that things are changing now does tell us something … that the way were were doing it was not the best way.

    Cyberlizzard: These are the genetically made-up mice that scared the shit out of everybody when they were first invented, but are now used (without dire effects) in lots of research. (Well, the mice suffer dire effects most of the time….)

  40. #40 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    Sci, I think we are pretty much in agreement.

    Good. Settled!

  41. #41 Nat
    July 23, 2009

    Well, just because the standards are evolving, doesn’t mean they’re evolving from the condition you described in your post.

  42. #42 Jason Thibeault
    July 23, 2009

    Seriously, there’s no such thing as “honorable mention” or “these people gave us stuff we used” in academic papers? I had no idea things were this bad.

  43. #43 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    Except that they very much are, Nat.

  44. #44 horace
    July 23, 2009

    Nat: Oh, yes, it is real. Not was, is.

  45. #45 becca
    July 23, 2009

    Greg- as it should be. I’d kick your ass too.
    Although, it’s very likely that my idea of “proper parenting” may be a little more… respectful of children as fully independent agents than some parents. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see how it actually goes now that the shoe will be on the other foot…

    CyberLizard- I was once given the advice to NEVER take on a knockout mouse generation project as a graduate student- you can spend 8 years doing the necessary 12 generations of backcrossing and get no publishable data.
    In that case, it kinda sucks to have someone request a mouse (which I totally agree you ought to give them, particularly so if you were NIH funded) and then have them publish three awesome papers in a year and get no credit for them.
    Though, as always, I tend to think the Correct Answer to authorship issues is to ask people to actually be involved in the authoring more if their contribution was otherwise in any way questionable.

    Jason- with respect to career advancement, “Acknowledgements” are like vice presidencies- not worth a bucket of warm spit.

  46. #46 Nat
    July 23, 2009

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    I for one especially love Greg’s end of commenting pronouncements.

    Particularly when they contain something like this:

    “…the area of standard NIH funded lab-ratty science which is a world that I am only marginally familiar with.

    Oh, but wait, Greg’s not completely shooting out of his ass:

    Over the last year or so I’ve actually worked a bit with mainly NIH and Medical Industry funded labs in a couple of different capacities, and my wife works in a highly specialized medical research lab now,

    So we should take Greg’s word over CPP or Dr. Feelgood? People who, I dunno, have spent their entire academic careers in that milieu?

    Next time you argue from authority, could you maybe, call me crazy, actually have some?

  47. #47 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    Becca: I had the same thought about what parenting SHOULD be and I was assuming that this is what you meant, but as you say, well, good luck… (With changing the world and all)

    Nat, don’t be an ass. Anyone who knows my blogging knows that those two comments you quoted were a trap. Actually, a trap I laid for Physioprof but he saw it and avoided stepping in it. He’s one smart fuckhead.

    So, in the end, are you telling me that somehow I don’t have a right to have opinions and should just shut up? And where, oh where, have I closed comments on this discussion?

  48. #48 Stephanie Z
    July 23, 2009

    Wait, if one person with a certain amount of experience sees some problematic behavior happening but two people with more experience see none, there is no problematic behavior? Life is not that uniformly distributed.

  49. #49 Nat
    July 23, 2009

    Dude, I love you. You’re a riot! AAAIIIEEEEEEE I IZZ CAUGHT IN GREGZ TRAPZZZZZ!!!

    And thanks for the ass comment.

    No, you can have opinions. Of course you can. THere’s apparently no shortage of those on your blog (as it should be), which is one reason I like to keep checking in. I may not agree much, but that’s ok. I love reading things I disagree with.

    But when you state a factual, as in, “Except that they [poor/unethical authorship practices] very much are, Nat.” we are out of the realm of opinion, and into the realm of facts. [Well, it could be an opinion, but if the facts don’t agree, in this case they trump the opinion.].

    And I question your direct knowledge of the factual assertion that this sort of authorship practice is common in NIH land.

  50. #50 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    On what basis do you question my direct knowledge? And this is not restricted to NIH, that is just one of the bigger pots. My own personal experience and the experience of my students and colleagues runs across numerous NIH, NSF and NASA funded projects and labs. I really do have experience in these areas, it is just not what I have done continuously for my career. My career is a bit complex. Buy me a beer some time and I’ll tell you all about it.

    And yes, it is my opinion that this is a widely recognized problem.

  51. #51 Scicurious
    July 23, 2009

    Wait. I’m not sure I understand why we’re supposed to be in agreement. I’m not saying that there isn’t a problem, but I don’t think it’s an ethical one. Rather, I think it’s a problem of how to “count” certain contributions to a field when tallying up accomplishments for tenure. I think most subfields have pretty well worked out how things are “counted” for authorship, and that others in those subfields understand the rules. What about the current set up do you find to be unfair? The system can be abused, sure, but that’s true of every system, and most of us get pretty good at spotting paper weasels pretty early on.

    But if this is such a problem, what do you suggest to fix it? Becca is right, an acknowledgment on a paper is worth about as much as what I scraped off my shoe this morning. Grant money is not something that can just be repaid, and going back and forth on contributions to projects without authorship or acknowledgment isn’t good for anyone’s career. Gold star stickers also do not count. It seems unlikely that review committees are going to start placing more respect on things that acknowledgments, which don’t show up in Pubmed.

  52. #52 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    Well, if we need for some reason to find an area where we disagree … (though I basically agreed with what you said in your earlier post, which is why I said that) try this on for size:

    I do not thing that the act of obtaining a grant that pays for, say, a new mass spec, and being in charge of the lab that runs the mass spec, allows a person’s name to be automatically included as author on a paper that reports an experiment that they did not think of, did not do, did not participate in, or did not help in the write up with. Having gotten the mass spec does not get you authorship in an ethical manner.

    Maybe we would disagree on that example. From what you said earlier, though, I don’t think so, but do correct me if I’m wrong.

  53. #53 Nat
    July 23, 2009

    It might be a widely recognized problem, but I guess in my experience (nearly all in NIH labs, but for a short time in an NSF funded lab), there’s no widespread insistence that solely provided equipment is ethical grounds for authorship.

    So sure, there are some bad actors out there, and other people will have different perceptions of it. Doesn’t mean there’s no problem. Just doesn’t mean there’s a huge problem.

    Still, it’s a somewhat different point than the main point of the post which was…..ah…..I forget now (assuming I ever actually grokked that main point on the first read. :)

  54. #54 Greg Laden
    July 23, 2009

    Well, the main point of the post is not this issue of authorship. Not even close.

    And certainly, it is not clear that this problem (which I re-state in a way to assess Scicurious’s level of disagreement with me which apparently we need to assay) is universal, tiny, important, or not important. I have a feeling that it is important but not ubiquitous. I think there are probably a lot of grad students who don’t feel comfortable bucking a system where they are participating in a lab or project where credit is, essentially, being stolen on a regular basis. So I think it is a problem that will tend to lie under the calm waters undetected (or at least protected from action) in many instances.

  55. #55 Scicurious
    July 23, 2009

    Ah, we do indeed agree on that point. I misinterpreted your previous statement. I can safely say, though, that I have never seen that sort of thing get someone authorship. Most labs I know generally strive for the fewest possible authors, and someone who just let us use a mass spec would never make the cut. That sort of thing sounds pretty abnormal to me, though perhaps I just haven’t run across bad apples like that.

  56. #56 Nat
    July 23, 2009

    Clarity rules.

    I think we’re all in better agreement on this point then.

    The Science Blogosphere: Getting things done since 2009….July 2009….July 23rd, 2009 at 3:08 PM EST…

  57. #57 men in black
    July 23, 2009

    Time to squash the blogosphere.

  58. #58 seviƟme
    July 23, 2009

    And even if only 1/4 of that 13% (round down to 3% just to be conservative) reject science because of religion, then that’s a HUGE number of scientists who allow religion to interfere with their judgment in science. Of course, if the number is only 3%, I wonder why the other 10% reject it if not religion. My guess is that my random low-ball figure of 3% is a large underestimate

  59. #59 CT
    July 23, 2009

    I hardly see giving the lab head senior authorship as unethical. In my field, it is generally understood that the first author is the driving force behind the project, doing most of the experiments and writing, and the senior author simply means “the person in whose lab the work was done”. At a minimum, they’ve provided space, equipment, and money to the project. No assumptions are made about how much more than that they’ve contributed, which will vary widely from project to project and from lab to lab.

  60. #60 horace
    July 23, 2009

    CT: You just keep doing that and your slave keeping overlords will be happy.

  61. #61 Comrade PhysioProf
    July 23, 2009

    Greg, you are totally fucking hilarious when you fuck shit up that you haven’t the faintest clue about. I am extremely glad that you don’t just stick to the youtube and celebrity death posts.

  62. #62 Carlos Daniel Llosa
    July 23, 2009

    “As far as technicians, I have seen many reasons to or not to include technicians (or undergrads or grad students), and usually it comes down to whether or not that person made a significant intellectual contribution that contributed in a meaningful way to the paper. Running the experiment only doesn’t count. Basically, as I understand it, if it’s something that anyone could have done (running the gel), then no authorship.”

    Well, the point is that while it is true that anyone could do it, someone has to actually go and do it, and that person better get some darn credit for it. Of course running a gel shouldn’t make someone an author, but doing some of the experiments, even if it’s done without understanding what’s happening, and even if it could be done by properly trained monkeys, it is work being done, and shouldn’t be go without proper credit.

    I guess some has to speak up for the rights of the working class (undergrads as me, that is).

  63. #63 Arkadaslik
    June 30, 2011

    Criticism is not a bad thing in general.

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