View From The Trenches
U27111 at uicvm.uic.edu
U27111 at uicvm.uic.edu
Thu Jun 22 15:17:06 EST 1995
Well, in two days I have received two e-mails concerning my last
posting (but no public response in the NEWSGROUP?)... Oh well.
As I respect the anonymity of personal e-mail... I will not post
their names, but since I have nothing better to do today - I
thought I would share some of the comments I have received and
A guy from Canada wrote:
>I would like to disagree with the extremely negative tone
>that you have taken in this and a previous posting. In general,
>I have not seen grad students who either refused to work the hours
>necessary to get hte work done, or who are careerists at the
>expense of their science.
> I have seen many students learning how best to present
>their results in public, but failure to do that essentially means
>that you haven't done the full job of doing the research and
>communicating to others so they canb use the information.
> I have no idea why you are soo pessimistic; your posts
>sound downright bitter. If you don't like science the way you are
>seeing it done aroung you, you should either find a better
>environment, or find another field of endeavor. I don't think
>that science minus the joy of doing it is worth the trouble.
And edited reply by me:
I'm sorry... I obviously failed to make myself clear in my
When I refer to making the 'best presentation' possible of the
data... I mean instead of presenting the truth... it's slanted to
best propagate their work rather than science in general.
That's what I meant by best presenting one's work... to put what
may even be garbage data into the best possible light and present
it as non-garbage.
Grants, peer-review, everything in science has turned into what
'looks' best as opposed to what is the actual substance and meaning
of something (or possibly even really meaningless?).
And the scientific process tends to get put to the side while one
is busy 'presenting' such data.
And why not try to fix it to an envirnment more worth working in?
I think there are too many like you who have this exact same
atittude, and thus explains why we (within the scientific
community) is not able to properly 'clean house'.
This either find a better envornment or switch fields DOES NOT take
care of what is wrong in the community... it only helps to ignore
problems and keep one's dream world intack.
Then a post doc wrote me and I replied: [I did 'some' editing]
PhD: As a student of the '90's your broad stroke criticism of my
PhD: work ethic and dedication is a little angering. You may be
PhD: surrounded by a lab or department of recipe reading "clock
PhD: punchers" (the characteristics I have seen in a number of
PhD: students at this University), but not ALL Ph.D. candidates of
PhD: the '90's are as you portray them to be.
K: No... but the *most* I've come across are as such.
PhD: My 5 years of training and sacrifice (long hours, poverty
PhD: level pay, loss of a social life, loss of contact with friends
PhD: and family) should count for something
K: Yes it should... it should count for the great feeling of
K: accomplishment that one gets when you discover something new,
K: proved beyond any doubt some scientific point or added something
K: significant to the pool of scientific knowledge...
K: And that's about it.
K: To expect anything more is putting yourself ahead of your work
K: and you should go corporate.
PhD: (although, in the current climate of budget cuts and a glut of
PhD: Ph.D.'s, I have great apprehension about my chances of getting
PhD: GOOD job out there).
K: It's more than there being a glut... it's because there are so
K: few *GOOD* labs out there to begin with.
PhD: And now, with the disheartening prospects of the job market
PhD: confronting me after graduation, I read from your e-mail that
PhD: I am not even RESPECTED for my accomplishment at obtaining a
K: A piece of paper does not (should not) command respect. That's
K: what I was talking about when I said ego was one of the things
K: which gets in the way of the pursuit of scientific truths.
K: But don't feel too bad... there are only a hand full of people
K: in science which I do respect - period.
K: So don't take it *too* personally.
PhD: I won't even get into your implications that I have been
PhD: to produce data that is not credible?!?!?!?!?! You sound like
PhD: a bitter person who has been burned by a former student (if
PhD: _I_ can be so bold as to make an assumption about you).
K: You may be so bold... but it's a wrong assumption. I've been
K: burned by the entire field and I'm tired and disgusted.
K: And by the way... I've been told many times by many students how
K: they have been *properly* trained - only to find out different
K: once we get down to work.
K: If you are not being properly trained - how would you know any
K: better? And if 80% of the people in a certain field don't know
K: any better and mis-information constantly gets propagated...
K: then *improper* lab work becomes the norm and anybody who does
K: know the difference is considered wrong (just by the fact we are
K: outnumbered and people don't care to take the time to think
K: things out).
PhD: Please don't include me in your broad hand stroke of blame and
PhD: finger pointing as to your preceived deterioration of graduate
Phd: level education.
K: It's *all* high production and low quality work. It has to be
K: in order to survive and obtain grant monies.
K: And I'm not just pointing to a deterioration of grad level
K: education... science in general has deteriorated in both morals
K: and ethics. And this indeed is getting past down to the next
K: generations well.
K: I'm sorry if you took the finger pointing so personal as well?
>> There is a glut because it is far too easy to obtain a PhD. You
>> spend x amount of years in a lab... write a thesis and you are
>> pretty much guaranteed your PhD. And now you guys are even
>> starting to complain about the number X is?
PhD: Speak for yourself, I am proud of my work and know I have
PhD: received a quality graduate education. However, it was
PhD: neither easy nor guaranteed. If you are complaining about the
PhD: amount of time and effort you think it takes (or should take)
PhD: to get a Ph.D., then I believe your criticisms should be
PhD: directed to the tenured faculty who sit on those committees
PhD: that are turning out all of those "deficient" students.
K: Yes... they are indeed at fault as well.
>> What we need is 'certified' PhDs. Let's see how many could pass
>> some type of appropriate 'national' exam required to obtain a
>> certification in lab techniques and the scientific process - not
>> so many then I think?
PhD: I would, and so would ALL of my colleagues in my lab.
K: Good for you... but there you are only thinking about yourself
K: and those around you.
K: How do *you* honestly think the rest of the field would fair?
K: But that's not really any of your concern is it? You have
K: already begun building your ivory tower to sit atop and look
K: down at everybody else?
>> I don't know... most young scientists today are only good as
>> And that they should check their ideals at the door if they
>> enter science... because the is the first thing to go in
>> research. Like I've said over and over again, it all comes down
>> to politics, greed and egos - there is no 'real' pursuit of
>> scientific truths.
PhD: You seem to continually dance around the topic of scientific
PhD: misconduct and even imply the blatant falsification of data to
PhD: produce publications and therefore improve chances for funding
PhD: by the offenders. I agree that there have been numerous cases
PhD: documenting such misconduct (Baltimore, Gallo), but their
PhD: actions hardly should be used to suggest that I do not have
PhD: any ideals or morals with respect to science (or anything else
PhD: for that matter).
K: Well, what have you done about the this broad problem? Ignoring
K: it and leaving it for others makes you just as guilty as those
K: who do perform misconduct, falsification of data and sloppiness.
K: Turning a blind eye only allows it to continue. What kind of
K: morals or ethics is that?
K: Believe me... I know. It's a "just worry about your own work
K: and ignore those around you" attitude. You think just because
K: you may be conscientious about your own work... that's ethical
K: and moral 'enough.'
K: As a field in general, we take no responsibility for our
PhD: Your comments suggest a black future for science if true.
K: Well... of course I don't know for sure. But I can't help to
K: think that a day will come when one too many a person will have
K: died of AIDS and/or cancer... and the 'public' will have had
K: enough. Then we all [in the biomedical field at least] will
K: have to answer to them. And then changes will be *forced* upon
K: Maybe this is just wishful thinking... but no, the future does
K: not look too bright from here.
PhD: You had to walk to your lab uphill, both ways, and read
PhD: journals by candle light while striving for the pursuit of
PhD: scientific excellence. Your 25 hour days and unquestionable
PhD: ideals should be commended,
K: I have no more ideals... they have all been taken from me.
PhD: but please don't throw the next generation of scientists under
PhD: the umbrella of ignorance and moral bankrupcy. I for one
PhD: don't wish to be judged without a jury by you or anyone.
K: The jury has been in sir... you was just too busy creating your
K: own dream world to notice the verdict.
K: Articles attached:
"Scientists, institutions downplay misconduct - Accusers hit office
probing their charges as ineffectual" by Leslie Alan Horvitz. The
Washington Times, May 3, 1994, pp.A6.
"Like politicians caught with their hands in the till, scientists
accused of fraud and incompetence have learned the art of
Roger Poisson is quoted in this article to say, "I always feel
sorry for a nice case to be denied the right to enter a good
protocol just on account of trivial details"
And the article goes on to report the results of a survey done by
the Acadia Institute of Bar Harbor, Maine... 43% of graduate
students and 50% of faculty members have "direct knowledge" of some
kind of misconduct in their laboratories. Where misconduct is
defined as fraud, falsification and plagiarism (note: sloppiness
was not included in this survey). And Jules Hallum, a virologist
and former director of the Office of Scientific Integrity is quoted
as saying, "I think that sloppy science is so much more dangerous
than crooked science, since there is so much more of it."
Charles McCutchen, NIH physicist is also quoted in this article to
say, "Once you get a really political atmosphere, then appearance
is all important, and if you need a little fraud to maintain that
appearance, you do it."
Mr. McCutchen points to the date when American science took a turn
for the worst: Dec. 12, 1980. For that was when Congress created
the Patent Reform Act which allowed universities to retain
exclusive rights to patents generated by research in their labs
(even if the work was subsidized by taxpayers). This was the
beginning of the Gold Rush.
Mr. Minsky (chief of the National Coalition for Universities in the
Public Interest - a Ralph Nader group) offers a theoretical
example: "I'm a scientist working on a new drug, and I want to
know if the drug's effective. If I were just a pure scientist in
the old days, I might publish my results even if they weren't
conclusive." The goal was to contribute to general knowledge.
Today, a scientist might be tempted to "massage" the data enough to
make it appear as if the drug is effective, motivated by the
prospect of a lucrative deal with a pharmaceutical company.
How many scientists succumb to this is unknown.
But according to a 1990 House Government Operations Committee
report: "Many cases of scientific misconduct would have gone
undiscovered, and many of the scientists would have continued their
fraudulent or misleading research, without the courageous and
sometimes single-minded efforts of one or two individuals [whistle-
blowers], many of whom are sharply criticized by the institutions
involved as vindictive or jealous colleagues."
And as for the ORI (Office of Research Integrity)...
Robert Sprague (professor of psychology at the University of
Pittsburgh who testified before Congress on the Stephen Breuning
case of misconduct... and who was threatened with libel action by
that university).. he calls the ORI "window dressing".
Ernie Fitzgerald (an Air Force cost analyst who exposed defense
industry corruption) was quoted as saying "It's eyewash for the
public. They will occasionally concede what's going to come out
anyway, but put the best possible face on it and assure the tax-
paying public that whatever problems there are have been solved."
Charles McCutchen called the ORI "the black hole bureau - it
vacuums up complaints and buries them."
Even when ORI decides that someone is guilty, "they can't
make it stick," says Walter Stewart, a researcher at NIH
who has generated a great deal of controversy for his
work (along with colleague Ned Feder) in examining fraud
cases. One big reason: the agency's standards for
determining misconduct are too stringent. The ORI not
only must prove misconduct based on a preponderance of
evidence but on intent to defraud as well.
According to ORI guidelines, any individual the agency
finds guilty of scientific misconduct has the right to
appeal to the Health and Human Services Departmental
Appeals Board. Lawyers comprise the board that has even
higher standards than ORI and guarantees legal protection
for those found guilty of misconduct.
The article then goes on to discuss the case of Dr. Robert Gallo
and Mikulas Popovic... who the ORI first found "guilty of
permitting lapses and misrepresentation by his team," then 3 years
later that there were in fact guilty of "minor misconduct," and
finally after a review by the Appeals Board - dropped all charges.
"The board has upped the stakes considerably," complained
Mr. Bivens [of the ORI] after the [Gallo] decision.
"They basically treat these cases now as criminal cases.
This had led to a fundamental conflict between the legal
and scientific cultures."
As for Whistleblowers:
Mr. Bivens, of the ORI, acknowledges that legal protection for
whistleblowers remain ineffectual.
Phil Green, an Ann Arbor, Mich. lawyer who had won a
major fraud case against the University of Michigan, sees
little hope that whistleblowers will ever be free to
expose misconduct and escape retribution.
N.Y. Times News Service, May 25, 1995:
WASHINGTON - The AIDS researcher Dr. Robert C. Gallo announced
Wednesday that he was leaving his laboratory at the National
Institutes of Health to head a new laboratory, the Institute of
Human Virology, in Baltimore.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening of Maryland said at a news conference in
Baltimore that the state would back the venture, which will be
centered on the University of Maryland's medical school campus in
Baltimore. More than $16 million and a large laboratory building
have been pledged by the university, the state and the city.
Gallo will be the director of the new institute, and two other
government scientists - Dr. William Blattner of the National
Institutes of Health and Dr. Robert Redfield of the Walter Reed
Army Institute of Research - will join it.
"Structural transformations of the sciences and the end of peer
review" (The Second International Congress on Peer Review in
Biomedical Publication) by Horace Freeland Judson v272 JAMA, July
13, 1994 p.92(3).
"The first and most familiar of the transformations we can
think of as internal to research and publishing; it comprises
the declining standards and the growing, built-in tendency
toward corruption of the peer-review and refereeing
[Note: the author makes the distinction between peer review for
grants and published articles by referring to 'peer review' for the
grant process and 'refereeing' for journal submissions]
The other two transformations is considered external to peer
II. The transition from exponential growth of the sciences to a
III. The appearance and development of the electronic publishing
and electronic collaboration.
I. Considerations of the first transformation - that peer review
and refereeing are inherently threatened by corruption:
1. The root of the frequency of plagiarism is the fact that the
persons most qualified to judge a specific grant proposal or
a submitted paper are that scientist's closest competitor.
Besides the theft of graphs, tables and entire paragraphs; the
theft of intellectual ideas is probably the most common.
2. Fatigue: "The systems are wearing out with time, breaking
down under pressure."
"As the number of scientists has increased so vastly in the
last 50 years, as specialties have multiplied and journals so
promiscuously proliferated, the familiar consequences has been
increased competition for funding. On the grants side, even as
the demands on the process have grown, the qualifications of
participants, and above all their dedication and enthusiasm,
their morale, have sadly waned. What was a high and
interesting duty has become a wearisome chore."
"Worse, as over the years an ever-smaller proportion of grants
get funded and as the applications themselves, in the top
quartile, are more difficult to put in any reliable rank
order, politics become overt in the review process. Rivalries
between scientists, laboratories, and schools of thought
emerge as palpable factors. What began as a means of keeping
external pressures at arm's length has turned, to some extent
at least, into a cockpit in which the internal politics of the
sciences are fought out."
II. Considerations of the second transformation - to a steady
state: where scientists and techs will be trained at a rate
sufficient to replace those which die, retire or quite... all
while funds grow no faster than the inflation of costs for
personal, materials and facilities.
1. The first sign of this transition is a shortage of funding and
an intensification of competition. Along with an ever
increasing pressure by the government for directed or targeted
research (ie. "national needs").
2. The internationalization of research
3. Greater and more complex linkages between university and
"Increasingly, potential profit drives the direction of
The end result of this transition... both industry and academic
research will increasingly be judged by the evaluation of outcomes.
"For those in science, evaluation of outcomes will mean
evaluation of their work by nonscientists, evaluation at
end points rather than prospectively or in mid-process,
evaluation according to new criteria over which
scientists will have far less control."
III. Considerations of the third transformation - electronic
publishing and collaboration:
1. "it offers the only possible remedy to the problems of
sorting out from the vast scientific literature all the
articles, but only the articles, that are directly relevant to
the individual's work."
2. "it will allow one to record, retain, and keep accessible
one's own responses-notes, commentary linkages, inspired
ideas- to those articles."
3. It can help to overcome the problem of lag time between
submission of an article to publication.
4. There will no longer be a need to 'condense' or 'simplify' an
5. The use of bulletin boards:
"The communities-they are being called "collaborators"-
that are coming to use Internet in this and related ways
are, in aggregate, potentially numerous, international,
and highly active. Yet the number of scientists in any
one such subset may number a dozen, two score, 200. The
members of such a group, competing and simultaneously
collaborating are each and collectively one another's
peers, doing in effect their own reviewing, not blinded
or anonymously but open and in a manner that concatenates
publication and responses."
"Eventually-but sooner than you can easily imagine-we will see an
evolution toward a form of publication that will be a continuing
open dialogue and collaboration among contributing scientists,
editors, expert commentators, and readers."
K: My only comment... he speaks of electronic publishing and
K: collaboration as a savior of peer review, but what will help
K: make the grant process less political? He doesn't really
K: address that.
K: Oh well - Any ideas?
K: Oh I'm sorry... your too concerned about finding a *GOOD* job to
K: worry about the entire field in general?
K: As long as you can get a job... nothing else really matters?
K: Take care and enjoy your dream world sitting up in your tower...
K: it is really fun - while it lasts.
Sorry for it coming out so long,
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