I’ve had a lot of thoughts surrounding viruses and using them to target different diseases (particularly Type 1 Diabetes, since that’s what I work on) and to use them as a delivery system. This was spurred when doing a literature review for targeting diabetes and amplified recently thanks to the excellent podcast This Week in Virology (TWiV) by Prof. Racaniello. And as much as I am itching to explore some of these ideas here, I am just too tired tonight. Seems like I’m fighting a cold. But I promise it will happen soon.
Adding to my tiredness today was the issue of honesty in academic research. When I say honesty I don’t mean the blatant fabrication and falsification of results, nor do I mean honesty in the sense of being dishonest.
I mean the omission of the little things. In one sense this could be the omission of the actual way of doing an experiment versus what you read in the methods section of a paper. If you are unaware of how bad the state of reproducibility of the scientific literature is, then I suggest you take a look at the many blog posts by Derek Lowe on the subject (which are backed by studies).
But this also takes the form of asking people in person for advice on how they did a specific experiment. By leaving out key details (the make or break parts of the experiment or technique), or the simple “tips and tricks” that are learned from experience, serves to wastes time. As someone trying to learn how to do something in lab, I don’t care if what you tell me isn’t perfect, optimized, and puts you in the best light possible. I’m only thinking about my own experiment. I’m not judging you as a scientist. But when I later find that you withheld important information I do begin to question why you’d do that.
Is it a lack of awareness that such information is important (i.e. unintentional)? A worry about what others might think if how you did something isn’t the conventional way? Or merely a lack of caring about the success of your peers as long as you get your own work done?
The first is excusable to an extent as it can be rectified with subsequent conversations, but the ladder two are really frustrating to deal with.
This has been a common theme I’ve experienced ever since making a transition from biochemistry/genomics research to doing organic chemistry. I’ve tended to find a higher percentage of people less enthusiastic to mentor younger students in actual lab work, which is exactly where you want students to be mentored. Not just for the sake of productivity and training future scientists, but for the sake of safety.
We need to change the culture of organic chemistry (not just on this issue either, but I’ll leave that for another day). We need to value, reward, and advance those that mentor. Selfishness, no matter what the intent, needs to be discouraged. Unfortunately, it is often idolized in the form of “look how much I got done this week/month/year”. I have high hopes that we can overcome this culture, but it has to be an active attempt on the part of students, post-docs, PIs, and funding agencies.