Ethics in research question

Michael Holloway mhollowa at NYX.CS.DU.EDU
Sun Aug 15 04:45:39 EST 1993

After reading Michael's message, I agree with the other respondents
that the big lab was unethical in its handling of the information
it received from the small lab.

-deleted intro-
>understand.  Let's say, hypothetically, that there's this lab at
>Rockefeller that has hoards of grad students and postdocs - and a
>reputation for screwing people they collaborate with.  Rumor of this
>has already reached a hypothetical small lab with but one highly

Since the small lab knew the reputation of the larger lab, it should
have been wary of dealing with them.  I'm not saying the small lab
shouldn't have collaborated (actually, I don't see any collaboration
in Michael's scenario), but it should not have continued to freely
give critical information to the larger lab after the first blatant
misuse of information by the larger lab (as is evident later in
Michael's scenario)

>industrious, bright, intelligent, handsome (and available) grad

Are you implying that all the people in the large lab are lazy, dull,
stupid, ugly (and not available)?  They must have some intelligence
if they can recognize work that is good enough to steal!  I couldn't
resist responding to that comment. :)

-more stuff deleted-
>that they took an interest in the same project immediately after
>that and present a poster with the same results (same gene, same
>methods as presented in the advisor's talk).  The head of the lab
>explains to the advisor that his students did it all behind his back
>and there really isn't any problem anyway since they're

What I would like to know is why people assume that the original
perpetrator was the grad students and not the head of the large lab?
If the head of the large lab did nothing to rectify the situation
once it came to his attention that his students did something wrong,
then who is to say that he did not instruct his students to work on
the same project as the small lab?  Of course there isn't an easy
way to prove this. :)  All the head of the large lab has to do is deny
that he had any previous knowlege of what his students were doing.
Who are people going to believe, the head of a large lab at Rockefeller
(presumably a "prestigious", lab although it does have a bad reputation
for screwing collaborators) or a grad student in the lab who may be
feeling pressure to produce results-- assuming that the large lab has
to account to whatever-powers-that-be for its actions.

>collaborators, etc.  No mention made of joint publication.  Both
>labs publish separate papers.
This is collaboration?

>Several months later, the grad student gets a call from a student at
>the Rockefeller group asking for sequence data that was mentioned
>along with  preliminary, unpublished, transcriptional control assay
>and gel shift data presented on his poster at the meeting.  The
>small lab grad recklessly stated that the sequence would be
>available in a short time after the meeting.  The Rockefeller grad

Why is it reckless behavior for the small lab grad to say that the
seq will be published soon?  I think it would be more reckless if
the student had given the requested information.

To answer some of Michael's questions, it was unethichal of the large
lab (or any lab) to take information from another lab and use it to
scoop that other lab.  In your scenario it was sheer stupidity of the
small lab to continue "collaborating" with the large lab after the
first incident.  As people, we have to learn to deal with others who
are unethical and not just in science.  There are ways to deal with
people like that, but I'll leave that for others to describe (having
not been in this kind of situation I don't have any ready solutions).


Eleanor Gallo-Hendrikx
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, Canada
email: UGG00506 at VM.UoGuelph.CA

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