Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Links: Ethics in Science Edition

  1. In Mentoring Ethics and Authorship Ethics, Janet Stemwedel discusses what appears to be a pretty egregious case of grabbing authorship:

    A graduate student, in chatting with a colleague in another lab, happened upon an idea for an experimental side project to do with that colleague. While the side project fell well outside the research agenda of this graduate student's research group, he first asked his advisor whether it was OK for him to work on the side project. The advisor was reluctant to allow the student to work on the project, but agreed to give him a relatively short window of time (on the order of weeks, not months) to work on the side project and see if he got any results.

    As it happened, the graduate student and colleague were able to generate enough data in that short window of time to write up the results as a manuscript.

    When the graduate student discussed this with his advisor, the advisor wanted first authorship on the paper. [...]

  2. Scientific misconduct as a principal-agent problem. Daniel Little discusses "how to create the institutional structures where misconduct is unlikely to occur and where misconduct is most likely to be detected when it does." Here's one of the radical ideas in his post:

    Brian Deer is one of Britain's leading journalists covering medical research (website). His work in the Sunday Times of London established the medical fraud underlying the spurious claim that MMR vaccine causes autism mentioned above. Following a recent public lecture to a medical audience he was asked the question, how can we get a handle on frauds like these? And his answer was blunt: with snap inspections, investigative policing, and serious penalties. In his perception, the stakes are too high to leave the matter to professional ethics.

  3. Marcia Angell in NY Review of Books: Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption. [see also the follow-up discussion]

    Take the case of Dr. Joseph L. Biederman, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and chief of pediatric psychopharmacology at Harvard's Massachusetts General Hospital. Thanks largely to him, children as young as two years old are now being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated with a cocktail of powerful drugs, many of which were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for that purpose and none of which were approved for children below ten years of age.

    Legally, physicians may use drugs that have already been approved for a particular purpose for any other purpose they choose, but such use should be based on good published scientific evidence. That seems not to be the case here. Biederman's own studies of the drugs he advocates to treat childhood bipolar disorder were, as The New York Times summarized the opinions of its expert sources, "so small and loosely designed that they were largely inconclusive."[1]

    In June, Senator Grassley revealed that drug companies, including those that make drugs he advocates for childhood bipolar disorder, had paid Biederman $1.6 million in consulting and speaking fees between 2000 and 2007. Two of his colleagues received similar amounts. [...]


  1. Anonymous said...

    Under what category of ethics does asking for reviewer comments of published papers come under? I hear this is done in some departments in IISc for promotion of faculty.

  2. Anonymous said...

    @Anon: I hope this is not true at IISc.

    On the issue of ethics and working in collaboration, I find it rather subjective in terms how people act and behave. Overall, as my advisor told me once, there are two kinds of researchers, Givers and Takers. Most of us fall in these two categories and our ethics are defined based on the category we belong to. Nevertheless ethics that can cause havoc on the society need to be penalized to the maximum extent. This could be a good reason why controversial finding are often subject serious reviews.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Talking about academic ethics, I wonder what happened to that Prof. Rajput case that got some very high-profile publicity with many Nobel prize winners writing a letter of concern to President Kalam. In fact I found that signed letter posted on Stanford's website.

  4. Giri@iisc said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.