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All’s Not Fair in Science and Publishing

False credit for scientific discoveries threatens the success and pace of research.

By | July 1, 2012

image: All’s Not Fair in Science and Publishing Corbis, © Laughing Stock

CORBIS, © LAUGHING STOCK

When I was a young faculty member struggling to earn tenure, I was denied authorship on a paper that represented a major scientific advance in my field. It is an injustice that I have since learned is pervasive throughout the scientific community, stemming from a hierarchy based on seniority alone. Failing to credit the junior scientists who make many of our original discoveries not only undermines the importance of this younger class of researchers, but actually threatens scientific progress.

Cutthroat science

I had recently taken a position at an Ivy League institution when another junior faculty member showed me a micrograph of a macrophage containing intracellular bacteria. I immediately noticed an electron-dense material near the bacterial cells, which I suspected might be actin filaments of the host cell. I agreed to test this hypothesis, and using a fluorescent actin stain, found that, indeed, many of the bacterial cells had actin filaments on one pole. “Could this bacterium be harnessing the host’s actin to move within cells?” I wondered aloud to my colleague.

A month later I brought additional data confirming my findings to my collaborator’s office, where I noticed a paper on his desk with the bacterium’s name and actin in the title. He and a senior professor were listed as the authors, but I was not. “Where’s my name?” I asked. He noted that he and this senior professor had decided to perform their own electron microscopy studies, and were submitting their findings to a prestigious journal. “You’re welcome to publish your work separately,” he suggested.

Despite the fact that he and I had initially discovered the association between this bacterium and actin filaments, because my data was not included in their final manuscript, I was excluded as an author. I was being considered for tenure over the next year, and thought that protesting further might jeopardize my chances. But the loss of credit also had the potential to harm my advancement. In the end, I decided to remain silent, and published my paper 6 months after theirs.

At conferences, the fear of potential theft of ideas is often the unacknowledged elephant in the room.

The discovery of the role of actin in bacterial movement within cells subsequently led to a burst of new research and major advances. Their paper, the first to be published on the association of actin and the bacterium, has been cited 765 times. Coming second, my paper has received far less attention, with 233 citations.

Twenty years later, I still don’t trust confiding new findings to other researchers. My takeaway lesson was that the safest strategy was to divulge my results only after they were accepted for publication. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. Science is too often a cutthroat venture, with publications as the currency for measuring one’s success. But with everyone keeping their findings secret until they have been approved by the peer-review process, aren’t we slowing the course of scientific discovery?

Age-old practice

Scientific history is replete with discoveries marred by lack of recognition of crucial contributors, and such occurrences have often altered the course of research. In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published their landmark discovery of the structure of DNA, for which they and Maurice Wilkins later received the Nobel Prize. It was truly groundbreaking work that shaped future generations’ work in genetics. However, save an acknowledgement at the end of the paper, Rosalind Franklin was not recognized. Watson and Crick had, without her permission, gained access to Franklin’s high-quality X-ray crystallographic photographs of DNA, which allowed them to correct their model and deduce the true structure of DNA. The discord surrounding who deserved credit for each component of the discovery is thought by some to have slowed progress in our understanding of how DNA works for at least a decade by limiting collaborations and the open sharing of ideas.

Controversy has similarly plagued the discovery of the AIDS virus. In 1983, Luc Montagnier, of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, and colleagues reported the lymphadenopathy retrovirus LAV to be the virus possibly responsible for AIDS. A year later, after Montagnier had inadvertently sent mislabeled samples of a more aggressive strain of the virus—called LAI, the code for the patient it came from—to Robert Gallo of the National Institutes of Health, Gallo claimed that a retrovirus he called IIIB was the causative virus. Sequencing data subsequently revealed that IIIB was virtually identical to LAI, and suggested that Montagnier was likely the true trailblazer, but the exact truth will never be known. He and his colleague Françoise Barré-Sinoussi were awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery, and the controversy divided the scientific community, harming a previously open and fruitful collaboration.

Scientists have failed to establish clear mores for crediting discoveries. It seems only ethical that the person who generated the hypothesis and proved it with experimental data be afforded credit for his or her discovery. Patent and copyright laws have established this expectation.

But it doesn’t often work this way in practice. During the preliminary phase of research, formal laws are usually not applied. Despite several incidents of suspect “findings,” few in the scientific community want to create a legal quagmire. Without specific and accurate documentation of exactly when a discovery was made, disputes can quickly descend into “he said, she said” territory.

Many believe that false attribution is actually increasing in frequency, likely motivated by the steady decrease in grant-funding rates. Investigators who lack initial insight, but are technically skilled, can reproduce other researchers’ findings and submit their “original” research for publication, staking a false claim to the discovery. When scientists gather for conferences, the fear of potential theft of ideas is often the unacknowledged elephant in the room.

Open Network

If scientific administrators aspire to accelerate innovation by encouraging team science, they must address this issue. Our university system should reward scientists who are honest and fair in their dealings with fellow investigators.  Specific protocols for guiding research and managing disagreements must be designed. Accurate laboratory records should reflect appropriate credit, and websites sponsored by international scientific organizations should be similarly designed to display accurate attribution of preliminary scientific discoveries. In addition, journals could post final drafts of papers before publication, allowing anonymous comments during a probationary period. If a substantive objection arises, the journal should require revisions or even reject the paper.

Most importantly, we need to encourage altruism and team spirit. If every researcher focuses on the goals of the project rather than individual parts, conflict will dissipate and openness will prevail. Senior mentors should encourage the success of the investigators they supervise, rather than focus on their own personal achievements. This system would validate each member’s contribution and encourage trust.

False attribution within the sciences threatens the integrity of research as a whole. The ultimate goal must be open scientific dialogue and assurance that appropriate credit is given. If these conditions are not fulfilled, not only individual scientists, but our entire society will be harmed. The price of inaction is the slowing of progress and the pursuit of truth.

Frederick Southwick is a professor of medicine at the University of Florida and manages New Quality and Safety Initiatives for the University of Florida and Shands Health Care System. He also is the author of Critically Ill: A 5-Point Plan to Cure Healthcare Delivery.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Linda Mayes and Steven Southwick of  Yale University for their helpful discussions.

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Avatar of: HFletcher_679

HFletcher_679

Posts: 44

July 2, 2012

Attribution is just as bad later. In an early UK Research assessment exercise, a colleague with a good record and research income was not returned so that credit for jointly named papers could go to the head or department who no longer had much involvement in day to day research. In the last RAE that colleague was in turn given credit for a paper based on the practical skills and theoretical expertise of a co-author, who also prepared the paper. At university level, research does not belong to the academic unless it suits the grand corporate scheme. Although the universities are not privatised yet, they already think of academic staff as interchangeable and disposable automata to be manipulated at will.
Hugh Fletcher.

Avatar of: 41458

41458

Posts: 1

July 2, 2012

Having been in research for over 25 years, I can honestly say that I had only one PI that was totally honest. Too many times I saw that senior and junior academics alike would steal scientific ideas, steal actual physical data, and then race to publish using a list of authors that anly vaguely represented the actual contributors to the work. They would list several senior academics who had nothing to do with the work but everything to do with helping their careers, help get them new space, ect.  This killed my desire for research and I learned to never speak of any discovery I made except in a public forum, where there would be witnesses.  NIH and academia have fostered, not discouraged, this sort of behavior by treating funded academics like gods, treating graduate students and technicians like disposable units and rewarding the race to discovery to the fastest, not always the best, to publish.

Avatar of: alyzzyla

alyzzyla

Posts: 4

July 2, 2012

To this day, ideas can not be secured before they are published,there have been many incidents of peer-reviewers rejecting submitted papers, stealing ideas and publishing claimed work as their own. We have to admit, that having a paper published is neither a certificate of originality nor is it  verification of data. I am so sick of the current system, and i am hoping that honest scientists, who have witnessed fraud and misconduct, will come together and put an end to this anarchy.

Avatar of: Steven

Steven

Posts: 1457

July 2, 2012

Yep, that's the way it is. The university community is interested primarily in money generated by research and not the research itself. 
It has become a commodity on the balance sheet. 
Even researchers and research labs have become commodities, bought and sold by the highest bidder. 
I know of scientific researchers who have worked in a university lab, which was purchases by a corporation, which was subsequently bought out by another corporation and then the lab went back with the university, so while the researcher remained in the same facility, same lab, same laboratory bench, he had about three different employers over a period of 8 or ten years and ended up working for the original employer. 
So researchers, labs, and research itself are bought and sold by the highest bidder. 

Avatar of: Frederick Southwick

Frederick Southwick

Posts: 1457

July 5, 2012

It is clear that virtually everyone I have spoken to has experienced someone stealing their ideas. Perhaps there needs to be a group of scientists to join together to create a new organization dedicated to honesty in science. We clearly have a serious problem that needs a meaningful solution. 

Avatar of: dehdeh

dehdeh

Posts: 28

July 6, 2012

My experience (40 years of basic research on stem cells and aging at the Jackson Lab in Bar Harbor) has not been nearly as discouraging as some of the comments.  Sure, there are people who will steal your ideas, but word gets around, and you learn not to talk with them about anything new and important.  Far more common in my experience are honest people who will collaborate and try to assign credit fairly.  Incidentally, it is usual when your data are not used that you are not included as a co-author, unless your ideas were original and vital to the paper (the case claimed by the author).  Perhaps, unknown to the author, his colleagues had already noticed the actin - bacteria association, so his ideas were not needed any more than his data.  We all see things through lenses where WE are most important.  That is only human, but not always fair.  Before condemning the people who first published the actin - bacteria association, I would want to hear their side of the story.

Avatar of: publius999

publius999

Posts: 1

July 6, 2012

It even extends to Nobel prizes.    E.g.,  the winners of the 2000 Chemistry prize for the "discovery and development" of conductive polymers neglected to cite several almost identical prior publications going back over a decade before their work.   Thus,  Inzelt's monograph "Conducting Polymers" (2012),  delicately notes that the Nobel's  "...'discovery of conducting polymers' is an exaggeration.."  and that their work was  just one of a sequence of such discoveries.   Personally,  because of such shenangans in my own field,  I dropped out for the fleshpots of medical practice long ago.   But as a PhD,MD I had this as an alternative.   PhD types just have to take it.

Avatar of: Ricss

Ricss

Posts: 1

July 7, 2012

I agree with most of your points/recommendations, except one - "In addition, journals could post final drafts of papers before publication, allowing anonymous comments during a probationary period. If a substantive objection arises, the journal should require revisions or even reject the paper." While suggesting this did you consider or discuss with someone from the publishing industry that this might mean increased workload and higher printing costs for journals? 

Avatar of: Verbsat

Verbsat

Posts: 2

July 9, 2012

The tip of the iceberg

Southwick's experience is just part of an even greater problem. See the Commentary "Too many authors, too few creators" in the April 2012 issue of Physics Today.

Avatar of: David

David

Posts: 1457

July 9, 2012

I agree completely with the idea of some sort of organization to oversee this sort of academic dishonesty. I left science for this very reason!
I spent two years developing an altered dnase1 suicide gene... only to find out that my PI was patenting and publishing my work without any acknowledgment. I got a little suspicious when I was refused the right to introduce my work in our weekly departmental meetings, since it might be stolen... but in reality he had already introduced it to the other faculty in a private meeting... as his own personal work. The paper went to nature... I called Nature to complain... but there was nothing that could be done. I don't know how often this happens... but this was the second time for me... and I left science as a result. I'm very good in the lab...and I love it... but if my work always has someone's name on it??? what is the point?

Avatar of: Brian Hanley

Brian Hanley

Posts: 66

July 9, 2012

There certainly is something to be done. File your claim against the university's patent office. It is illegal for them to knowingly file patents if the inventors are not true inventor. Or it was prior to the "reform" and your claim would be prior to the change in patent law to first to file. (AKA "Intellectual theivery legalization")

Avatar of: Kope Kopras

Kope Kopras

Posts: 1457

July 9, 2012

There is a spectrum of scientist--from passionate about discovery through this is a business.  What many consider unethical in standard life is normal when the word 'business' is placed in front of 'ethics'.  Without a global shift in acceptable business practices, this is what you are going to get from a portion of scientists. 

Avatar of: verynaive

verynaive

Posts: 7

July 9, 2012

openess, sharing of idea and discussion are the best way forward in science, nobody researches in a void, we build on previous knowledge and ideas.
The rest is ugly, and unecessary, fruit of making people compete against each other for what is considered limited resources, but are they? Isn't our ability to reason which is most important the most important resource?
But after all everybody wants this competition for a chance to have his worth established, everybody wants to be the best and to be recognized.
So, like pollution, nuclear waste and contamination, increasing poverty that is also the result of this choice, that there is a best man and he has to fight to be recognized.

Avatar of: MAGS01

MAGS01

Posts: 25

July 9, 2012

If ideas are stolen from the scientist, what is there left for him/her.  Just nothing.  

Avatar of: Lah99

Lah99

Posts: 6

July 9, 2012

In my 30 years in life science, this is an often repeated tale with many variations.  Having left academic science halfway through my career moving to Biotech, the major difference I see is that there is a bright line around what you can and cannot share.  Increasingly over the years academic scientists with dreams of fame and fortune lose site of their role.  However, at the same time, I know many excellent academic scientists that are well grounded with honesty and integrity and would not consider the option of not recognizing contributions by students or junior faculty.  So in the end there are likely a few rotten apples in any barrel.

Avatar of: dredomcgowan

dredomcgowan

Posts: 19

July 9, 2012

I was a young staff scientist with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee for the State of California. The University of California considered itself as the state's research arm. In government, we needed answers to practical questions and we needed such answers relatively soon. Often the state would contract for studies with the UC system but getting such answers might need to await publication and that did not work well. So, to get around this conundrum, we would bid to other institutions and incorporate milestones into these contracts. UC did not like this and there was much shouting across this void. But, I understand the problems discussed by this article and the various comments because my major professor was also involved in "borrowing" ideas from his grad students. But, it gets worse as politically manipulated data and reports come out of some of this nation's major institutions and these may be reports that favor industry at the expense of public health. Accordingly, when such national academies come out with reports these must be viewed, at times a bit askance. If this happens as frequently as I find, then the whole of the process becomes suspect until proven otherwise and American science thus takes it in the back of the ear.

A close friend had done some novel work in the area of international fisheries and was appointed as country fishery officer for Cambodia. He was also a fellow at the local university campus. He was working on economics and had proposed monopoly systems for fisheries as a way to stem over fishing. Unfortunately he contracted an illness in Cambodia and died there. I had all his papers because I held his US storage locker key. I gave all his papers to the local university campus where he was a fellow, with specific mention and emphasis on his economic studies including fairly well fleshed out manuscripts on monopoly. A couple of years later, I noted a paper in a major journal on work very much similar to his and I questioned that. "Oh no, his work never included that subject." Interesting answer because he and I had worked on these manuscripts and in the published paper in that august scientific journal, acknowledgements to his work or citations to his name never appeared. He truly had just disappeared.

Dr Edo McGowan, Medical Geo-hydrology

Avatar of: lifebiomedguru

lifebiomedguru

Posts: 4

July 9, 2012

Citing false discoveries (i.e., scientific fraud via falsified data) is a prosecutable offense when US federal government funding is involved.  When one scientist steals another's intellectual property, it should similarly be prosecutable as long as the communication of the results can be documented.  Sanctions might include being barred from applying for federal funding for a year, and the loss of current federal funding.  The credit could also be attributed via addendum to the publication by the funding agency itself.  Good scientists discuss authorship freely and openly; these problems are avoidable by management styles that foster career development.  Senior researchers who find themselves competing with and feeling threatened by the junior researchers they recruited should have their heads examined.

Avatar of: yankeegirl1

yankeegirl1

Posts: 2

July 9, 2012

I was a believer in integrity in the scientific community but after reading this story I am dismayed that this kind of credit stealing goes on. I also read about recent brain bank freezer failure at McLeans Hospital in which it was reported that "foul play has not been ruled out" and the "matter is being investigated". As a non scientist and parent of a child with autism who has a big stake in scientific research, I hope good scientists continue and do not let the bad apples discourage you. Many of us greatly value the work you do.

July 9, 2012

My experience as a Federal research grants administrator has led me to realize that the instances of "idea theft" are far less common than generally believed.  More often than not, the prior established work in a field points the way (in a sort of obvious manner) toward the next big finding, but individual scientists' egos lead them to believe that they are the only ones who could possibly see this exciting next step.  Simultaneous discovery is thus not necessarily due to one person "stealing" the ideas of another.  More often it is the case that good minds often think alike within a field.

Nonetheless, it was always -- ALWAYS -- impossible for me to convince Scientist A that his archrival Scientist B did NOT review A's grant proposal, that nobody in B's institution or connected with B in any way reviewed the grant proposal, and therefore the fact that B "scooped" A in the literature with the same idea and a similar technical approach (the obvious approach to use) was NOT due to idea theft. 

Paranoia runs rampant when ego is at stake.  Scientists, who tend to be INTJ (on the Myers-Briggs scale) and thus highly introverted yet strong-minded types, are particularly prone to this.  And, human nature being what it is, once a belief is formed in the human belly, it sticks like peanut butter to the roof of the mouth and thence to the ribs, and all the "truth" and evidence in the world cannot shake it loose.   

It's just how it is. Human nature is the way it is. And while it often leads to bad consequences, (e.g., in the voting booth), I've learned the hard way that even I could not "change" people, any more than they could change me.

Avatar of: GrandpaTarkin

GrandpaTarkin

Posts: 8

July 9, 2012

Could we please stop conflating "science" and "medicine"?
This, like falsified studies, is almost entirely a _medicine_ problem, due to the huge amounts of money in play, not in science in general.

Avatar of: mightythor

mightythor

Posts: 1457

July 9, 2012

In my long career, I have been chivvied out of authorship by hardnosed collaborators, and also been included as a coauthor on many papers when I didn't expect it based on my limited contributions.  Fortunately the latter have been far more frequent than the former.

In the movie Touch and Go, Maria Conchita Alonso asks Michael Keaton "How do you know who you can trust until you trust them and see what happens," and he replies "You figure out who is going to profit if you get what you want, and that's who you trust."  She replies that there has to be more to it than that, and indeed there is, but his advice is a good place to start for young scientists.

Another good piece of advice is to spell out the terms of any collaboration as early as possible in the process, preferably in writing.  That means you have to speak up and articulate your expectations and have them acknowledged.  It's not foolproof, but it helps avoid misunderstandings.  It's an old adage but a true one: when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.

Avatar of: Brian Hanley

Brian Hanley

Posts: 66

July 9, 2012

In economics this is known as Gresham's law. Bad ethics drive out good ethics.

A current example in banking is addressed today by Bill Black in an article titled: The BBC as Apologist for Lying about Libor.

Barclays’ defense asserts the existence of what economists, criminologists, and (real) regulators describe as a classic “Gresham’s dynamicâ€쳌 in which bad ethics drives good ethics out of the markets. The paramount function of financial regulators is to serve as the “cops on the beatâ€쳌 who engage in vigorous regulation, examination and supervision, enforcement, and who make the essential criminal referrals to the prosecutors in order to prevent the unethical from gaining a competitive advantage. The alternative is that markets become perverse and fraud can become the dominant strategy. A Gresham’s dynamic is “cancerous,â€쳌 but it does not produce “moral relativism.â€쳌 It produces endemic immoral conduct, not for the greater good but to enrich the senior officers leading the fraud. It also requires the evisceration of effective governance and setting an aggressively “immoral tone at the top.â€쳌 The senior officials who set the immoral tone at the top can be relied upon to “applaudâ€쳌 fraud. Over time the most moral employees leave in disgust and the moral dregs rise to the top of the septic tank. The employees often find that additional lies will increase their wealth.

This describes the state of science today with accuracy. Lies pay. Intellectual theft pays. There is no regulation whatsoever. Senior officials applaud the fraud.

Avatar of: David H

David H

Posts: 41

July 9, 2012

Many of us have had this experience, where we show one of our discoveries to someone who 'forgets' the source of this information, and then we see a paper appear at a later time on the subject.  To further open communication in science, I think what is needed is a rapid facility to publish short notes as we discover things, and then there will be a record.  With this kind of facility, scientists will know that their original feedings have been documented.

July 9, 2012

I also see a lot of peopel who have made no meanignful contribution to the reseach showing up as authors on papers. This is particualry true of MD, PhDs whose names are included on many basic science papers as lead authors to get RO1 grants. There is a need for top down review of grant process based solely on the merits of the hypothesis and experiemtal design.  Race, "backwardness", affirmative action, political agenda,MD qualification, should not be factors in disbursement of taxpayer money. We have too much to lose by ignoring merit, qualifications for resaeach grants, evaluation of ROI, in the process of funding projects. Such strict rules may mean closure of many labs and een flow of US funds to outside institutions. So be it. It is better to have a few great labs than a ton of mediocre institutions churning out garbage.

Avatar of: Shi V. Liu

Shi V. Liu

Posts: 1457

July 9, 2012

Top journals’ big role in promoting credit robberies on pioneering researchers
 
Southwick’s outcry against false credit is well justified.  This is because failing to assign right credit not only threatens scientific progress but also promotes misconduct in science.
 
Over the past two decades I have longly worked in a research field that was ridiculed by the mainstream scientists.  I was studying intrinsic cell aging, using the so-called immortal prokaryotic bacteria as the model organisms.
 
I made a ground-breaking discovery in 1990 that a mother (bacterial) cell does not divide into two (bacterial) daughter cells but reproduces one and more daughter cells.  This fundamental discovery not only provides a basis for studying chronological aging in unicellular prokaryotic bacteria but also lays down a foundation for uniting all organisms (big or small, prokaryotic or eukaryotic, unicellular or multicellular) under a same framework of life science.
 
Furthermore I proposed that older template DNA strand remains inside the reproduction-experienced mother cell while the younger template DNA strand is segregated into the new born daughter cell.  This DNA-cell co-aging thus serves as a clear example for linking molecule aging with cell aging and thus sheds light into understanding the physico-chemical nature of the intrinsic cell aging.  By pointing out the vulnerability of old DNA to more aging assaults in the later stage of cell life, this molecule aging-based cell aging theory also runs against the so-called immortal strand hypothesis which regards non-replicating DNA considered as “pristineâ€쳌 DNA free of any mutation damage.
 
I presented my discoveries to some key international meetings and prestige research institutes and published them in open access and open review journals after rejections by the “topâ€쳌 journals.  I also made some inventions from these discoveries and even obtained some patents on them.
 
However, when trends came and later (confirmatory) discoveries became acceptable by the mainstream for “topâ€쳌 journal publications, my ground-breaking pioneering discoveries and original novel inventions were completely neglected, even though some of the authors were aware of my works.  More amazingly, whenever I complained such incidence, the journals always sided with imposters and denied my complaints.
 
This corrupted behavior in “topâ€쳌 journals has in fact promoted even more aggressive credit robberies on my pioneering discoveries.  For example, even after years of protesting previous credit robberies and even my submission of an Open Letter to CNS (published in Logical Biology), Nature still published a News & Views article highly praising two flawed researches while totally neglected my prior art and knowledge.  When this cutthroat was protested with a Correspondence, Nature simply ignored it.
Now this Correspondence is published in Scientific Ethics.  Another Correspondence denouncing dictatorship in science but rejected by Nature is published in Top Watch. I wish, by exposing these high-level credit robberies, an urgent sense will be felt that, for correcting the pervasive credit robberies in science, we really need a top-down approach.
 
By the way, I am the editor-in-chief of a series of new generation scientific journals which include Logical Biology, Scientific Ethics, Top Watch, Pioneer, and International Medicine published by TruthFinding CyberPress (TFCP).  Over the past decades, these double-open (open access and open review) journals have played a critical role in communicating some pioneering discoveries that are un-publishable by mainstream journals and protecting the priority of these original discoveries while condemning the unethical behaviors of credit robbers.  But we definitely need to unite more and more forces to fight a pervasive corruption in science.
 
Shi V. Liu MD PhD
SVL8EPA@gmail.com

Avatar of: Len Banaszak

Len Banaszak

Posts: 6

July 9, 2012

Avoiding legitimate co-authors leaves the worst image of any scientist.  But there are several other errors that should also be considered.  I have FREQUENTLY noticed reports that have used other workers crystallographic data without a citation.  The error begins with the fact that the coordinate data is "freely" available in a database and image-producing computer programs are also "freely" available.  Remember almost all journals require that the coordinates must be submitted to the PDB when a structure is published.  Scientists that use this data should "freely" acknowledge the original source of the coordinates and the authors of any software they used in their studies or in the publication!

July 9, 2012

It is true that science and research the life-line of progress and economic gateway for any nation. Unfortunately many in the seat of power do not wish to acknowledge or  want to encourage scientists who want to pursue their career in their home land. I am a teacher of biochemistry with few publications. Yet I wanted to do my bit of research and send proposals to agencies which go by the name of the investigators and the institution. Most of the private institutions where we get job opportunities have their own agenda and agencies are not convinced how the funding can be given to a person working in such a private institution. Rather the fund even if it is sent- whose name it has to be sent with all the laws to regulate it. In the process the scientist loses interest. Some ask questions of not becoming of academicians- what is the value of publishing -does it enhance anything with respect to your salary structure. With these ideas we have no place to appeal excepting to bask in the past for what was being done. When one does a postdoctoral work abroad and returns home- most of the time the scientist continues the work which he has left without thinking whether it will be of scientific significance to the place or community he works with. It is complex issue and a pandora's box with little solution to find. Science still goes on unimpeded into its glorious journey taking many of us into the mysteries of nature and life. Yet we scientists remain human, for we wish to take credit sometimes at the cost of others or at the cost something which does not belong to us. After all we are humans even if we are scientists ds sheriff

Avatar of: A. Jamie Cuticchia

A. Jamie Cuticchia

Posts: 1457

July 10, 2012

As I bioinformatician, I can't begin to count the number of papers either I or someone in my lab/group was excluded - and I not talking "core facility" work.  Even when we were integral to the research, we were not thought of as "authors" and the work would be published without our input.

Agreed, that authors of a paper must have made a scientific contribution, which I would argue may be more than just running some BLAST scripts, but I have seen in many cases where people were left off after having significant input to the project because the authors felt they did not make a contribution.

We solved this by discussing the roles and collaboration at the beginning of the project. Everyone seemed happy and it laid out some productive roles and responsibilities. It was key.

Avatar of: etflm625

etflm625

Posts: 1

July 10, 2012

The  omission of Rosalind Franklin from the group who received the Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA is an often cited story.  However, I have always believed that Erwin Chargaff's work on base pairing was also an important contribution that simplified Watson and Crick's research and should have been recognized.  Retelling the story of how Franklin was unjustly denied credit has given her posthumous honor, but Chargaff's credit is still denied.

Edyth L. Malin, Ph.D.
Research Chemist, Retired
Eastern Regional Research Center
Agricultural Research Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Wyndmoor, PA 19898

Avatar of: Chris

Chris

Posts: 1457

July 10, 2012

Retired in Boynton Beach Flori has a point: my postdoc advisor used to say to whoever was within earshot that he had been scooped.  The reality was that the work in the field was such that these ideas he had were logical follow-ups to what had been reported and the fellow took so long to make up his mind and lacked so much confidence in his group that everything had to be done 7-8 times consistently for him to shut up and accept that we could publish it.  Obviously, the others went ahead and published their findings faster than he did.  Many scientists do suffer from this problem. 

But I have seen, and I speak of the Indian research scene where we have no official way to monitor research integrity and certainly no one to punish misconduct, many senior people steal ideas from other, more junior people.  In an environment where power and connections rule the roost, they are a little more careful about picking their victims because they cannot be as or more powerful than they are, for obvious reasons.  Junior faculty's students are taken away by senior faculty (usually heads of departments), their ideas are taken for their own proposals, senior scientists demand to be corresponding authors and principal investigators on junior faculty's papers and proposals and become vindictive when not allowed. 

Research advisors have made themselves first authors on their students’ thesis introduction-turned-review papers and how students’ data are taken to write up papers for principal investigators as corresponding authors and their favorites as first authors.  If these students came to know of this in time, they were ALSO given authorship if it looked like they would complain or spread the word. If not, they came to know after the paper had been accepted and their degrees were threatened if they opened their mouth and asked for authorship at that late stage.  The Indian authorities take no cognizance, or pretend not to, of these facts and the University Grant Commission (UGC), a body that is supposed to regulate higher education, has laid out rules to assess academic performance of faculty for hiring and promotion purposes.  

Universities too follow these point systems blindly without understanding what they are dealing with and rely on impact factors, the order of appearance of authors etc and conveniently avoid dealing with the misconduct that goes on around them that makes these things meaningless.  When such wronged students will try to become faculty themselves and realize that they lost out on publication of their own data because more points are given to first author (even corresponding authors don’t get that many points!) and that the same lack of powerful connections that cost them their authorship is not helping them get jobs, they will get frustrated and try to leave the country for postdocs and settle abroad.  And the Indian government will continue to make noises about attracting and retaining faculty and scientists to help the country develop into a knowledge economy.  

Avatar of: PFNS

PFNS

Posts: 2

July 10, 2012

Although science is a true passion for me, all the politics that you in such a good way described in this article, made me rethink...specially when health became threaten. After endless hours of work and like you had to remain silent against unfairness...
Altruism, sharing findings is something so important, but blind ambition speaks louder...With unnoticed crawling on one's back after that person has done all the work seems to be the acquired fashion in science, where beginner researchers need to learn by self experience the hard way. 

Avatar of: Lesley

Lesley

Posts: 1457

July 10, 2012

I work in Europe as a team member of many research teams, where the power brokers in universities have entire monopolies. Their research assistance are nephews and nieces and their colleagues and co-researchers are husbands, wives, friends, and persons to whom a favor is owed. There are no institutional practices for grievances, but in the end -- even if there were, they would not work in most instances. As we see in the article, due to tenure review, the author was "fearful of jeoperdizing his chances" as he clearly stated. As I see it -- that is the true problem -- even when safeguards are in place to protect potential victims of wrongdoings, victims often do not avail themselves of these. As with most victims of crimes or unfair practices at work -- victims have to find to denounce the perpertartors of such acts. Fortunately, I believe as one post stated -- that it is a question of a minority of "rotten apples". They are certainly the exception, rather than the rule -- I think...I could not really know if no one has the courage to step forward immediately, rather than 10 or 20 years later. Thanks to internet, we can diffuse these ideas, encourage debate and try to come up with viable solutions. But, in the end, an element of risk remains for anyone who wants to make waves and stand up for his/her principles. 

Avatar of: paula oliveira

paula oliveira

Posts: 1

July 10, 2012

 I also work in Europe and was a victim more than 10 years ago, with someone I worked with in a project. From the begining we all knew we were supposed to publish the new achievements. This other person suddenly announced to me that he would change his job but assured we would continue working at distance until work was published. I did almost all the effort, ideas were mine, the original problem, data, interpretation were his, computations were from both but the original were from me, since he had already published something in the same line. Our paper was refused in the first try and I already had the impression he was trying to slow me down on writting the paper before so that I had to do almost all the writting. About that time he suddenly changed address and never gave me notice of that. I phoned the place and had a "we don't know who he is, probably moved, is not in our list". I later found a paper of him with another co-author with my idea applied with a different set of data, presented as a new idea (a methodology) of the 2 authors. There was a reference there to a previous conference paper of mine with this person, but wrongly presented the content, since this new idea was already included in short in the conference paper but was not really citted. Only other aspects were citted, so that the work of these 2 persons appeared as completly new. If the reviewers had done their job at least they should have asked authors to clarify the situation and do appropriate citation and credit. I asked around at the place I work what should I do and was said it would be very difficult to do anything and that if I tried I would loose most of my time fighting this journal leaving my research to a 2nd plan. This because my 1st paper had been rejected and didn't involve the same data/study case.  So it was. If someone looks at the conference paper and then the journal paper carefully, will notice something doesn't fit. I presented the paper to the audiance, briefly, and had shared my idea with my co-author. Apparently this was not enought. At least the other journal paper should be fare and say the authors were following the methodoly 1st announced by us in the published conference paper.

Avatar of: Lesley

Lesley

Posts: 1457

July 10, 2012

The problem is not what systems we put into place (though we must put them into place as safeguards) -- but rather having the courage to step forward immediately and not wait years when one finds themselves at the mercy of powerful people. As the author himself stated, due to tenure he did not want to jeoperdize his chances. While this is understandable, it is the reason why unfair practices of any kind continue in all workplaces -- the victims feel they have too much to lose if they make waves. The internet is a great place to share these situations, encourage debate, and seek viable solutions. But, unfortunately, in the end principled people must take risks because the "bad apples" that spoil it for the rest of us bank on the fact that they will not be exposed, and unfortunately as the Author of this article attests, they are right -- most of the time.

Avatar of: FJScientist

FJScientist

Posts: 52

July 10, 2012

In my normal day-to-day activities as a scientist, I often look at others' data and make suggestions to them about how to proceed. I am not an author by doing so. I am a scientist helping a colleague make sense of her/his findings. It is my duty.That's what scientists do. 

If, in the course of doing so, I also decide that idea to be sufficiently interesting to pursue myself, then I will talk with them and ensure that we are proceeding in a complementary and/OR collaborative fashion. It is THEIR work, based on THEIR original findings, that I am then thinking about jumping into because I found it interesting. That is what it seems you did. When doing so, you should have made clear whether you were collaborating with your colleague. In the absense of such clarity, they likely assumed you were competing. 

Your subsequent reaction--to be secretive--only limits the discourse with your colleagues that may help you gain insights into your studies. That may be even more damaging to you than the perceived original sin by your colleague.

Avatar of: NYHUG

NYHUG

Posts: 3

July 11, 2012

There are many worse examples in science. For example, PIs bury new results that do not support their previously published ones even though new results are better and more convincing. In those cases, the PIs may not lose anything. But the postdoc or students who generated the new results defintely surfer and may even lose their careers.  

Avatar of: NYHUG

NYHUG

Posts: 3

July 11, 2012

Regarding publishing, journals especially top journals definitely play favorites. The journal would defeinitely give more credit to a manuscript when a big name is among the authors even when the topic is outside the big name's area.

Avatar of: pisshard

pisshard

Posts: 1

July 13, 2012

Get to work on warp drive so we can eventually blow this pop stand. That is all that matters now. This planet is going down.

Avatar of: dehdeh

dehdeh

Posts: 28

July 14, 2012

Frederick;
I agree about transparancy, but it is a lot of work to do an objective investigation, especially so long after the fact.   Your article is a rather vigorous attack, so I am sure you understand that, before requiring everyone you blame to produce their notebooks, letters, etc., this drastic action should be backed up by objective opinions from trusted experts familiar with the case.  

It is distressingly easy to back date notebooks, as you recognize. Yet it is simply not practical to have copies of each page notorized and placed in a vault.
Is there a computer back-up system that cannot be backdated?
If one was provided, and we all used it, that might help for the future.

Avatar of: Frederick Southwick

Frederick Southwick

Posts: 1457

July 14, 2012

There are ways to accurately date entries, and I doubt most scientists would actually try to alter dates. The creation of a trusted data base would take multiple iterations, but if there was strong support I do believe it could happen.

Avatar of: Frederick Southwick

Frederick Southwick

Posts: 1457

July 14, 2012

Lesley, I wish I had spoken out more strongly. At the time there was an interim dean who was not interested in my complaint and when I requested the advice of fellow scientists, they told me to back off. The systems were all aligned against me, and the culture accepted these behaviors as normal. Also there was no internet. I do believe the internet has the potential to greatly increase transparency and allow us to transform the culture of science.

Avatar of: Frederick Southwick

Frederick Southwick

Posts: 1457

July 14, 2012

 Chargaff was a professor in my medical school and gave a lecture on his important findings. I agree he should have received credit.

Avatar of: Peter kaczkowski

Peter kaczkowski

Posts: 1457

July 14, 2012

Yes there will always be a few rotten apples, but the system must not allow, let alone encourage, those bad apples to succeed. Because of the system's current reward/punishment rules, they often rise to the top, from where they poison the barrel quite effectively. See my post in reply to "retired in Boynton Beach Florida".

Avatar of: Frederick Southwick

Frederick Southwick

Posts: 1457

July 14, 2012

 As a an associate editor I can speak from experience, and indeed it would mean more work for the journal editors, but I believe this should be an accepted role of the journal. They are in the business of publishing the truth and accurate approbation should be among their primary goals.

Avatar of: Frederick Southwick

Frederick Southwick

Posts: 1457

July 14, 2012

 I would love them to state their case and let the public review the notebooks and the timing of events. Transparency is what we should all strive for.

Avatar of: Frederick Southwick

Frederick Southwick

Posts: 1457

July 14, 2012

 I agree there are many honest scientists, but as in all fields there are those that get ahead by taking credit for others ideas. Should we let the bad apples get away with it?

Avatar of: Frederick Southwick

Frederick Southwick

Posts: 1457

July 14, 2012

 I agree this would be an excellent first step.

Avatar of: Frederick Southwick

Frederick Southwick

Posts: 1457

July 14, 2012

 Excellent advice, and that has been my approach in recent years. I wish someone had given me that advice as a young faculty member.

Avatar of: Paul Bell

Paul Bell

Posts: 1

July 14, 2012

With all the retractions and cooked data I read about I am thinking there may be more than a few rotten apples.  There seems to be a general integrity shortage and lack of character in society and those in science are no exception.

Avatar of: Frederick Southwick

Frederick Southwick

Posts: 1457

July 14, 2012

 I agree that paranoia is a problem. Once won you get stung once it is natural to become gun shy. If there was a way to objectively document discoveries through a respected website, much of the paranoia would disappear and scientist would feel more secure in sharing their ideas.

Avatar of: Peter kaczkowski

Peter kaczkowski

Posts: 1457

July 14, 2012

@yahoo-RIER2TQ6UOK6HFM7U52EQCKFYM:disqus ... While paranoia is a problem, I do believe that much of it is a conditioned response, and a direct result of evident credit theft by colleagues, or competitors. This is a cycle of abuse that is going to be very hard to stop. It may be impossible to convince scientists that theft by competitors from different institutions did not occur in specific cases, as stated in your letter, but it does not follow that it never occurs. Sadly, it doesn't take many traumatic events to condition the rat, er scientist, to be more cautious with sharing, even paranoid about it; yes, it sticks in the craw.  The worst aspect of this situation is that those individuals most likely to succeed in such an environment (where intellectual property theft goes unpunished) are also the most abusive; both the reward structure, and lack of punishment for such abuse, conspire as forces for such selection. This simple evolutionary process is accelerated and strengthened by the lack of resources now afflicting biomedical research, in all but the "hot" fields. Similarly, other behaviors favored by the current academic reward system (numerous publications no matter how trivial or repetitive, abuse of those under supervision, torpedoing manuscripts or proposals under review to keep competition down, alliances by the powerful to fund each other with a far lower bar for the usual metrics) continue to spread the gap between those with power and those without (newer researchers and faculty), and also tend to select for the nastiest to succeed. Most importantly, it is not only ego at stake; careers and professional quality of life are really the issue here.
As the old saying goes: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you".

Avatar of: Physics grad

Physics grad

Posts: 1

July 16, 2012

Well Dr. Southwick at least you can take some comfort that while your field may have the usual share of dishonest professors who steal credit from the untenured and their doctoral students, at least your field is not renowned for falsifying results, loosing data and making unsubstantiated claims like the hacks in climatology.

Avatar of: Hominid

Hominid

Posts: 18

July 18, 2012

You opening statement is false.

Avatar of: Hominid

Hominid

Posts: 18

July 18, 2012

The same principle applies to grant apps - well-known PIs AND well-regarded institutions enjoy halo effects.  It's one of the reasons PIs will include letters of consultancy from big-names.  But, it's only one of many problems that plague the scientific enterprise.  In my 35 year career, I've sat on dozens of study sections and witnessed every imaginable human short-coming impact the evaluation process.  It's all a crap shoot.

Avatar of: NYHUG

NYHUG

Posts: 3

July 18, 2012

It's fortunate that you can speak out. It may be a good idea to write a book or report to the top politicians who run the goivernment. This system really needs some trouble-shooting work.

Avatar of: Hominid

Hominid

Posts: 18

July 18, 2012

Paranoia is a psychopathology - it should not be used as a synonym for distrustfulness.

Avatar of: Hominid

Hominid

Posts: 18

July 18, 2012

Bingo!

Avatar of: Hominid

Hominid

Posts: 18

July 18, 2012

Who has conflated science with medicine?  I haven't seen a single post that has done so.

Most science today is in biomedically-related fields - with good reason.

Avatar of: Hominid

Hominid

Posts: 18

July 18, 2012

Duh!

Avatar of: Hominid

Hominid

Posts: 18

July 18, 2012

Doesn't work and is contrary to fundamental principles of science.  Your simply suggesting a new forum for fraud.

Avatar of: Hominid

Hominid

Posts: 18

July 18, 2012

How would that be accomplished?  Can there be anonymity?  I don't think so.

Avatar of: Hominid

Hominid

Posts: 18

July 18, 2012

In most cases, it is impossible to ascertain whose tale is accurate & whose is imagined.  Would you litigate each?  That's just what science needs - control by lawyers.

Avatar of: Hominid

Hominid

Posts: 18

July 18, 2012

You're spouting Leftist baloney. Competition is the best way forward.

Avatar of: Niall O

Niall O' Connell

Posts: 1457

July 19, 2012

Never wonder aloud. 

Avatar of: John M

John M

Posts: 1457

July 20, 2012

A very insightful and thought provoking article, which I read with great interest. I have also read the appended comments, which are equally erudite in their analyses.

I would like to offer my own observations, as cultivated from within an entirely different field: that of post-structural philosophy.

The problem of "who had what idea first" is a very old one; but the problem itself is of little importance compared to the consequences which it tends to put into motion. In philosophy, of course, it is impossible to "own" an idea; and indeed, such ownership is often explicitly disallowed by society (in for instance the American Constitution, as regards freedom of speech and thought). How can we ever hope to establish a system for 'ownership of ideas' that would not involve some form of "thought police" tasked with establishing and enforcing the proper attribution of concepts? Of course it is quite impossible; and any philosopher who can lay claim to that name by right of though would quickly see that he or she would be among the first to have that idea turn around and bite them on the behind.

As "Retired In Boynton Beach" notes, there is an almost automatic tendency for we moderns to assume any idea that pops into our heads must have been exclusively ours; that having a brain in which thoughts pass into our subjectively conscious realization somehow equates with an objective creation of something new and never before thought. This tendency might be a little more pronounced in the Sciences, where things subjectively thought actually are eventually realized objectively; but, or course, this phenomenon of conscious realization happens everywhere that thought occurs. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari likened the situation to one of "A Thousand Plateaus" where any idea might spontaneously arise at innumerable loci of thought scattered throughout time and space.

They also note that the standard reaction to this unavoidable phenomenon is indeed somewhat that of paranoia: in the open market of a capitalist system, where everything is eventually drawn into economic circulation and so systemized within exchange, everyone is eventually confronted with aspects of consciousness which they take to be their own; and so our modern condition is one of "Capitalism and Schizophrenia."

This inevitably creates a situation which can best be described as one of 'anti-production': not necessarily the catatonia of end state schizophrenia but certainly, a reluctant withdrawal on the part of those who create ideas which tends to curtail any sharing of their thoughts with others.

The only way past this that Deleuze and Guattari managed to conceive was an embracing of the joyful nature of such productive activities. The only alternative to that is a lifetime of resentment spent in reaction to perceived slights, thefts of ideas, and misattribution of discoveries in thought.

One cannot let the thought that others will take one's ideas, prevent one from actively seeking to produce new ideas. After all, ideas are nothing if they are not shared with others; so there is really no point in expending the energy required for thinking new things if those thoughts go no further than one's own mind. 

That being said, I certainly sympathize with those who have posted here and mentioned their own experience with the theft of credit that I now see seems to be endemic within academic institutions. I myself have seen something of what has been described here: as an 'outsider' to the fields of anthropology and archaeology, I have nonetheless been documenting the form of image writing traditionally used by the First Nations of North America. There is no record of this form of writing within academic archives; and I have yet to encounter any person within the fields of anthropology and archaeology willing to acknowledge my findings. Instead, occasionally I publish articles articles derived from my research in philosophic publications; and I try to at least make my research available to the scientific community by sharing it with the editors of reputable publications such as Scientific American (knowing full well this is not a venue I will ever be publishing within). 

Certainly, there does seem to be some form of hierarchical cronyism endemic to the institutional reality of the sciences; and, I am glad that I am not immersed within that milieu. In any case (though perhaps, not in each and every case), I would have to say that the only way forward in such a situation is one where, quite simply, we must allow ourselves to reveal in the joy of inquiry and discovery for its own sake. The alternative is, of course, to find oneself giving in to a gnawing resentment and a reactive turning upon one's own thoughts... and that is not what any of us signed up for here.  

John@OriginOfWriting.com

Avatar of: Bryan Sanctuary

Bryan Sanctuary

Posts: 1

October 7, 2012

I think this has happened to us all.  It is serious when lack of credit hinders a career, but as you get older, I think we are more cavalier.  I like what David Wick said in his book, the Infomous Boundary about pubilishing new ideas.  Goes something like this:

Referees comments:

1. you are wrong, reject

then, after some time,

2.  You are not wrong but it is not important, reject.

finally people get it,

3. You are not wrong, it is important but we knew this all along, reject.

Try to bring in ideas that refute those that are well established, and you will have a hard time getting published.

 

Avatar of: Salticidologist

Salticidologist

Posts: 12

December 25, 2012

'Taking credit' is a common phenomenon.  Oftentimes, it is in the title of a 'new discovery' paper that does not credit earlier work on the subject.  Sometimes this is intentional, sometimes not.  I liked Alfred Russell Wallace's reaction to Darwin's co-publication with his original paper.  He just wanted to advance discussion of an important subject, and was happy to see Darwin's support for his ideas.  So now, the public thinks it was Darwin (who did great work and was a careful observer) when those who look into it know that the first submitted paper was by Wallace.  I remember showing one of mymicry discoveries to a colleague years ago.  He subsequently showed it to someone else, who published this finding and credited my colleague for showing it to them.  A lot of science works this way, the authors may be quite unaware of where the original idea or observation actually came from.

Avatar of: jeenious

jeenious

Posts: 37

December 25, 2012

A dear friend of mine, here in the U. S.,  is a world class expert on grape taxonomy.  He was quite open to discussing his research, and to allowing others to read his notebooks of data.

A well-known expert from another nation asked to come and visit with him, to enter into a dialogue on cutting edge issues each was engaged in.

My friend invited the requester to come and stay in his home.  He wined him and dined him, introduced him to other researchers, to a close friend with the California Grape Repository, to faculty of three universities...  No one could have been treated with more courtesy, more open exchange of ideas, more favors and gifts or more open access to notebooks and photographs and drawings and specimens...

It was not until after the foreign acquaintance had left the my friend discovered many of his notebooks, photographs, unpublished papers and other items were missing.

Who all was harmed by this betrayal?  Many.

My friend now works in secret.  He keeps his photographs and drawings and papers in a safe.  He tells no one what his hypotheses are, or what he is working on.  When he dies, much of his findings will die with him.

The loss to the entire field, and to everyone in it, is not measurable.

My formerly generous, open friend is a christian.  

The betrayers was adament about how he detests the idea that there could be any deity.

Isn't it sad that what some deem to be "scientific honesty," recognizes no law giver but nature "red of tooth and claw."

Another friend of mine, a PhD in chemistry, was denied a grant from a well-known source, on grounds that when asked if he had any spiritual beliefs he answered, "Yes."

I asked another friend of mine, a former teacher of biology, and an avowed atheist, whom he would perceive to be the more "honest" of the two characters in this true anecdote.  He did not answer directly, but launched into a string of abstract accusations that (all) the christians he has ever known are fakes, who just use religion to abuse others.

I asked if he could me the names of some of these people he's talking about.

"It doesn't matter," he said.  "I just know lots of them.  And they don't belong in science research."

Hmmmmm.

 

Avatar of: mlerman

mlerman

Posts: 22

December 25, 2012

 

Sadly, everything written here is correct. I know this by personal experience. I worked in science about 50+ years, in Russia (USSR) and in the USA. I wrote recently in my slide presentation on combined gene therapy of cancer (CGTC).   I am quite satisfied with my work in the last 30 years in US.      I made 4 discoveries: I isolated the Alzheimer gene (twice nominated for the Nobel by Gajdusek), I discovered the molecular mechanism of aging, I discovered how to treat and cure cancer with combined gene therapy, and discovered the origin of adult tissue and cancer stem cells. The last 3 reflect the fundamental role of the VHL gene in biology (which was cloned under my leadership).       My work was quite often stolen, and I never was really rewarded. It's all because of my personality traits (I am a wandering shtetl Jew, but I am not afraid of polar bears). Michael Lerman, M.D., Ph.D.  

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