Scientific corruption

It looks a lot like corruption everywhere else.  The danger signs are almost always pretty much the same, the biggest red flag being a hostile and defensive response to questions.  When you get that creepy feeling, it's time to check your parachute or gird for total war:
The day to day operation of the lab was conducted under a severe information embargo. . . . Information flowed one way, which was up, and conversation between working groups was generally discouraged and often forbidden.
Raw data left one’s hands, went to the immediate superior (one of the three named above) and the next time it was seen would be in a manuscript or grant.  What happened to that data in the intervening period is unclear.
. . . [T]here was a pervasive feeling of fear in the laboratory.  Although individually-tailored stated and unstated threats were present for lab members, the plight of many of us who were international fellows was especially harrowing.  Many were technically and educationally underqualified compared to what might be considered average research fellows in the United States. . . .
This combination of being undesirable to many other labs should they leave their position due to lack of experience/training, dependent upon employment for U.S. visa status, and under constant threat of career suicide in your home country should you leave, was enough to make many people play along.
Even so, I witnessed several people question the findings during their time in the lab.  These people and working groups were subsequently fired or resigned.  I would like to note that this lab is not unique in this type of exploitative practice, but that does not make it ethically sound and certainly does not create an environment for creative, collaborative, or honest science.


Ymar Sakar said...

That's not corruption, that's just free animal care for livestock on the farm.

Or was it, free healthcare for citizens.

Grim said...

It sounds as if we should be suspicious of research done by international students, because of these pressures they are under. That's surprising, in a way, because they are often quite sincere -- it takes a lot to leave your home country and live in a completely foreign land, let alone while undertaking a hard-core education in a scientific field.

Yet in a way, it makes sense. They really are in a vulnerable position. There must be intense pressure to conform.

james said...

Perhaps I'm just fortunate, but I've been in scientific research (elementary particle physics) for over 35 years, and never seen such an information lockdown. Raw data was available to all collaborators(*) and the brass didn't squelch questions.
That didn't mean there wasn't politics: empire building, whose students get a crack at the best thesis topics, and so on, but nobody wanted to be wrong. There was at least paper that came out from an experiment from which most of us withdrew our names because we didn't think the conclusion was right.

FWIW funding agencies (NSF, DoE) are asking that the public have access to the experiment's data after the experiment has done its first analysis pass, and IceCube has specified that this will happen after a 2-year delay.

(*)unless it was too voluminous. At the LHC teams had to decide how to process the data because it was too time-consuming and expensive to do it more than once or twice. Even the processed data required a lot of time to go through.

And analyses were approved to be tuned on only subsets of the data until the team supervising the analysis was certain it was ready for running over it all, and even then only when the secondary tests were shown to be successful, are the researchers allowed to "unblind" the final result.

We typically get one shot at this business--the detectors are too expensive--and we don't want to be wrong. Maybe the stem cell business is different, since you can always get a new batch of hearts and try again.

Texan99 said...

James, I don't doubt it for a moment. I hope this kind of thing is rare! But when it appears, it has that distinctive odor, which doesn't seem to change from field to field.