'Bahramdipity' and Scientific Research

Illustration: A. Canamucio Most readers of The Scientist probably agree that the education of scientists should be scientifically rigorous. Periodically, the nonscientific rigors of the education and training of scientists and physicians have been examined. When the exorbitant workloads imposed on interns and medical residents led to critical treatment errors, some hospitals changed their decades-old practices. Other tragedies have brought other cases of excessive or even abusive "rigor'' to l

Toby Sommer
Feb 1, 1999

Illustration: A. Canamucio
Most readers of The Scientist probably agree that the education of scientists should be scientifically rigorous. Periodically, the nonscientific rigors of the education and training of scientists and physicians have been examined. When the exorbitant workloads imposed on interns and medical residents led to critical treatment errors, some hospitals changed their decades-old practices. Other tragedies have brought other cases of excessive or even abusive "rigor'' to light. In August 1998, Jason Altom, a fifth-year graduate student in chemistry at Harvard University, took his own life. The Harvard Crimson quoted from a suicide note in which Altom referred to "abusive research advisors'' who "have too much power over the lives'' and careers of students.1

Several categories of abuse can arise from difficult research situations. Sociologists of science have examined numerous interesting cases. One particularly prominent form of abuse occurs when a graduate student or research associate cannot...