Friday, August 08, 2008

Crime and punishment in the lab
[This is the uncut version of my latest Muse article for Nature’s online news.]

Before we ask whether scientific conduct is dealt with harshly enough, we need to be clear about what punishment is meant to achieve.

Is science too soft on its miscreants? That could be read as the implication of a study published in Science, which shows that 43 percent of a small sample of scientists found guilty of misconduct remained employed subsequently in academia, and half of them continued to turn out a paper a year [1].

Scientists have been doing a lot of hand-wringing recently about misconduct in their ranks. A commentary in Nature [2] proposed that many such incidents go unreported, and suggested ways to improve that woeful state of affairs, such as adopting a ‘zero-tolerance culture’. This prompted several respondents to maintain that matters are even worse, for example because junior researchers see senior colleagues benefiting from ‘calculated, cautious dishonesty’ or because some countries lack regulatory bodies to police ethical breaches [3-5].

All this dismay is justified to the extent that misconduct potentially tarnishes the whole community, damaging the credibility of science in the eyes of the public. Whether the integrity of the scientific literature suffers seriously is less clear – the more important the false claim, the more likely it is to be uncovered quickly as others scrutinize the results or fail to reproduce them. This has been the case, for example, with the high-profile scandals and controversies over the work of Jan Hendrik Schön in nanotechnology, Hwang Woo-suk in cloning and Rusi Taleyarkhan in bench-top nuclear fusion.

But the discussion needs to move beyond these expressions of stern disapproval. For one thing, it isn’t clear what ‘zero tolerance’ should mean when misconduct is such a grey area. Everyone can agree that fabrication of data is beyond the pale; but as a study three years ago revealed [6], huge numbers of scientists routinely engage in practices that are questionable without being blatantly improper: using another’s ideas without credit, say, or overlooking others’ use of flawed data. Papers that inflate their apparent novelty by failing to acknowledge the extent of previous research are tiresomely common.

And it is remarkable how many austere calls for penalizing scientific misconduct omit any indication of what such penalties are meant to achieve. Such a situation is inconceivable in conventional criminology. Although there is no consensus on the objectives of a penal system – the relative weights that should be accorded to punishment, public protection, deterrence and rehabilitation – these are at least universally recognized as the components of the debate. In comparison, discussions of scientific misconduct seem all too often to stop at the primitive notion that it is a bad thing.

For example, the US Office of Research Integrity (ORI) provides ample explanation of its commendable procedures for handling allegations of misconduct, while the Office of Science and Technology Policy outlines the responsibilities of federal agencies and research institutions to conduct their own investigations. But where is the discussion of desired outcomes, beyond establishing the facts in a fair, efficient and transparent way?

This is why Redman and Merz’s study is useful. As they say, ‘little is known about the consequences of being found guilty of misconduct’. The common presumption, they say, is that such a verdict effectively spells the end of the perpetrator’s career.

Their conclusions, based on studies of 43 individuals deemed guilty by the ORI between 1994 and 2001, reveal a quite different picture. Of the 28 scientists Redman and Merz could trace, 10 were still working in academic positions. Those who agreed to be interviewed – just 7 of the 28 – were publishing an average 1.3 papers a year, while 19 of the 37 for which publication data were available published at least a paper a year.

Is this good or bad? Redman and Merz feel that the opportunity for redemption is important, not just from a liberal but also a pragmatic perspective. ‘The fact that some of these people retain useful scientific careers is sensible, given that they are trained as scientists’, says Merz. ‘They just slipped up in some fundamental way, and many can rebuild a scientific career or at least use the skills they developed as scientists.’ Besides, he adds, everyone they spoke to ‘paid a substantial price’. All reported financial and personal hardships, and some became physically ill.

But on another level, says Merz, these data ‘could be seen as undermining the deterrent effect of the perception that punishment is banishment, from academia, at least.’ Does the punishment fit the crime?

The scientific community has so far lacked much enthusiasm for confronting these questions – perhaps because misconduct, while a trait found in all fields of human activity, is felt to be uniquely embarrassing to an enterprise that considers itself in pursuit of objective truths. But the time has surely come to face the issue, ideally with more data to hand. In formulating civic penal policy, for example, one would like to know how the severity of sentencing affects crime rates (which might indicate the effectiveness of deterrence), and how different prison regimes (punitive versus educative, say) influence recidivism. And one needs to have a view on whether sanctions such as imprisonment are primarily for the sake of public protection or to mete out punishment.

The same sorts of considerations apply with scientific misconduct, because the result otherwise has a dangerously ad hoc flavour. Just a week ago, the South Korean national committee on bioethics rejected an application by Hwang Woo-suk to resume research on stem cells. Why? Because ‘he engaged in unethical and wrongful acts in the past’, according to one source. But that’s not a reason, it is simply a statement of fact. Does the committee fear that Hwang would do it again (despite the intense scrutiny that would be given to his every move)? Do they think he hasn’t been sufficiently punished yet? Or perhaps that approval would have raised doubts about the rigour of the country’s bioethics procedures? Each of these reasons might be defensible – but there’s no telling which, if any, applies.

One reason why it matters is that by all accounts Hwang is an extremely capable scientist. If he and others like him are to be excluded from making further contributions to their fields because of past transgressions, we need to be clear about why that is being done. We need a rational debate on the motivations and objectives of a scientific penal code.

References

1. Redman, B. K. & Merz, J. F., Science 321, 775 (2008).
2. Titus, S. L. et al., Nature 453, 980-982 (2008).
3. Bosch, X. Nature 454, 574 (2008).
4. Feder, N. & Stewart, W. W. Nature 454, 574 (2008).
5. Nussenzveig, P. A. & Funchal, Z. Nature 454, 574 (2008).
6. Martinson, B. C. et al., Nature 435, 737-738 (2008).

5 comments:

JimmyGiro said...

"Prepare the wicker Professor"

The frauds and parvenues that perpetrate these deeds, do so to enhance their 'status'. It's therefore this status that needs to be addressed.

If every scientist was entered on a giant database, and all agreed on a universal system of measuring their individual status, such as some citation index for example, then every transgression that is proven can result in negative 'citation' points, determined by the extent of that transgression.

Such a system might also curb the silly habit of all and sundry of a particular research group, putting their names to each and every publication from the group; since if found guilty of something, not only would the first author be penalised, but also those 'supervisors' chasing unearned kudos and DSc dissertation, who hitched their names parasitically.

How many Professors do you know who wrote less than 10% of 'their' publications and DSc dissertation?

JimmyGiro said...

Speaking of frauds; I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry at:

THIS

Look at the quote at the bottom of the article.

JimmyGiro said...

Wow, there's more, feast your scepticisms on the main gold seem:

Shen Clinic

Take a peek at "Photon Resonance Therapy" from the link on the page.

uhfdf said...

歐美a免費線上看,熊貓貼圖區,ec成人,聊天室080,aaa片免費看短片,dodo豆豆聊天室,一對一電話視訊聊天,自拍圖片集,走光露點,123456免費電影,本土自拍,美女裸體寫真,影片轉檔程式,成人視訊聊天,貼圖俱樂部,辣妹自拍影片,自拍電影免費下載,電話辣妹視訊,情色自拍貼圖,卡通做愛影片下載,日本辣妹自拍全裸,美女裸體模特兒,showlive影音聊天網,日本美女寫真,色情網,台灣自拍貼圖,情色貼圖貼片,百分百成人圖片 ,情色網站,a片網站,ukiss聊天室,卡通成人網,3級女星寫真,080 苗栗人聊天室,成人情色小說,免費成人片觀賞,

傑克論壇,維納斯成人用品,免費漫畫,內衣廣告美女,免費成人影城,a漫,國中女孩寫真自拍照片,ut男同志聊天室,女優,網友自拍,aa片免費看影片,玩美女人短片試看片,草莓論壇,kiss911貼圖片區,免費電影,免費成人,歐美 性感 美女 桌布,視訊交友高雄網,工藤靜香寫真集,金瓶梅免費影片,成人圖片 ,女明星裸體寫真,台灣處女貼圖貼片區,成人小遊戲,布蘭妮貼圖片區,美女視訊聊天,免費情色卡通短片,免費av18禁影片,小高聊天室,小老鼠論壇,免費a長片線上看,真愛love777聊天室,聊天ukiss,情色自拍貼圖,寵物女孩自拍網,免費a片下載,日本情色寫真,美女內衣秀,色情網,

liwo said...

av自拍,臺灣18歲成人免費,avon,正妹強力牆,免費線上成人影片,免費遊戲,a片貼圖,正妹圖片,3d美女圖,杜蕾斯免費a片,蓬萊仙山寫真集,a片網站,哈拉網路成人區,sex女優王國,性感美女,自拍密錄館,18禁卡通,爽翻天成人網,go2av,網拍模特兒應徵,台灣18成人,制服美女,小老鼠成人,成人光碟,金瓶影片交流區,85cc免費影城,成人交友,蓬萊仙山寫真集,無碼,正妹強力牆,嘟嘟情色網,影片轉檔程式,免費成人片觀賞,拓網交友,松島楓免費影片,色美眉部落格,18成人avooo,美腿論壇,辣媽辣妹,露點寫真,哈雷聊天室,18禁影片,看a片,美女工廠,影音城論壇,美女影片,免費遊戲,免費算,小魔女貼影片,a片貼圖,美腿褲襪高跟鞋,av女優王國,觀月雛乃影片,性感美女,

女優王國,免費無碼a片,0800a片區,免費線上遊戲,無名正妹牆,成人圖片,寫真美女,av1688影音娛樂網,dodo豆豆聊天室,網拍模特兒,成人文學,免費試看a片,a片免費看,成人情色小說,美腿絲襪,影片下載,美女a片,人體寫真模特兒,熊貓成人貼,kiss情色,美女遊戲區,104 貼圖區,線上看,aaa片免費看影片,天堂情色,躺伯虎聊天室,洪爺情色網,kiss情色網,貼影區,雄貓貼圖,080苗栗人聊天室,都都成人站,尋夢園聊天室,a片線上觀看,無碼影片,情慾自拍,免費成人片,影音城論壇,情色成人,最新免費線上遊戲,a383影音城,美腿,色情寫真,xxx383成人視訊,視訊交友90739,av女優影片,