Deborah, a third-year graduate student, and Kathleen, a postdoc, have made a series of measurements on a new experimental semiconductor material using an expensive neutron source at a national laboratory. When they get back to their own laboratory and examine the data, they get the following data points. A newly proposed theory predicts results indicated by the curve.
During the measurements at the national laboratory, Deborah and Kathleen observed that there were power fluctuations they could not control or predict. Furthermore, they discussed their work with another group doing similar experiments, and they knew that the other group had gotten results confirming the theoretical prediction and was writing a manuscript describing their results.
In writing up their own results for publication, Kathleen suggests dropping the two anomalous data points near the abscissa (the solid squares) from the published graph and from a statistical analysis. She proposes that the existence of the data points be mentioned in the paper as possibly due to power fluctuations and being outside the expected standard deviation calculated from the remaining data points. "These two runs," she argues to Deborah, "were obviously wrong."
The case of polywater demonstrates how the desire to
believe in a new phenomenon can sometimes overpower the demand for solid,
well-controlled evidence. In 1966 the Soviet scientist Boris Valdimirovich
Derjaguin lectured in
Over the next several years, hundreds of papers appeared in the scientific literature describing the properties of what soon came to be known as polywater. Theorists developed models, supported by some experimental measurements, in which strong hydrogen bonds were causing water to polymerize. Some even warned that if polywater escaped from the laboratory, it could autocatalytically polymerize all of the world's water.
Then the case for polywater began to crumble. Because polywater could only be formed in minuscule capillaries, very little was available for analysis. When small samples were analyzed, polywater proved to be contaminated with a variety of other substances, from silicon to phospholipids. Electron microscopy revealed that polywater actually consisted of finely divided particulate matter suspended in ordinary water.
Gradually, the scientists who had described the properties of polywater admitted that it did not exist. They had been misled by poorly controlled experiments and problems with experimental procedures. As the problems were resolved and experiments gained better controls, evidence for the existence of polywater disappeared.
John, a third-year graduate student, is participating in a department-wide seminar where students, postdocs, and faculty members discuss work in progress. An assistant professor prefaces her comments by saying that the work she is about to discuss is sponsored by both a federal grant and a biotechnology firm for which she consults. In the course of the talk John realizes that he has been working on a technique that could make a major contribution to the work being discussed. But his faculty advisor consults for a different, and competing, biotechnology firm.
Ed, a fourth-year graduate student, was still several months away from finishing an ongoing research project when a new postdoc arrived from a laboratory doing similar work. After the two were introduced, Ed automatically asked about the work going on in the other lab and was surprised to hear that researchers there had successfully developed a reagent that he was still struggling to perfect. Knowing that both labs had policies requiring the sharing of research materials, Ed wrote a letter to the head of the other lab asking if the laboratory could share some of the reagent with him. He didn't expect there to be a problem, because his project was not in competition with the work of the other lab, but a couple of weeks later he got a letter from the lab director saying that the reagent could not be shared because it was still "poorly developed and characterized."
The new postdoc, upon hearing the story, said, "That's ridiculous. They just don't want to give you a break."
Ben, a third-year graduate student, had been working on a research project that involved an important new experimental technique. For a national meeting in his discipline, Ben wrote an abstract and gave a brief presentation that mentioned the new technique. After his presentation, he was surprised and pleased when Dr. Freeman, a leading researcher from another university, engaged him in an extended conversation. Dr. Freeman asked Ben extensively about the new technique, and Ben described it fully. Ben's own faculty advisor often encouraged his students not to keep secrets from other researchers, and Ben was flattered that Dr. Freeman would be so interested in his work.
Six months later Ben was leafing through a journal when he noticed an article by Dr. Freeman. The article described an experiment that clearly depended on the technique that Ben had developed. He didn't mind; in fact, he was again somewhat flattered that his technique had so strongly influenced Dr. Freeman's work. But when he turned to the citations, expecting to see a reference to his abstract or presentation, his name was nowhere to be found.
A much-discussed example of the difficulties associated
with allocating credit between junior and senior researchers was the 1967 discovery
by Jocelyn Bell, then a 24-year-old graduate student, of pulsars. Over the
previous two years, Bell and several other students, under the supervision of
Bell's thesis advisor, Anthony Hewish, had built a 4.5-acre radiotelescope to
investigate scintillating radio sources in th e sky. After the telescope began
Many argued that
Paula, a young assistant professor, and two graduate students have been working on a series of related experiments for the past several years. During that time, the experiments have been written up in various posters, abstracts, and meeting presentations. Now it is time to write up the experiments for publication, but the students and Paula must first make an important decision. They could write a single paper with one first author that would describe the experiments in a comprehensive manner, or they could write a series of shorter, less complete papers so that each student could be a first author.
Paula favors the first option, arguing that a single publication in a more visible journal would better suit all of their purposes. Paula's students, on the other hand, strongly suggest that a series of papers be prepared. They argue that one paper encompassing all the results would be too long and complex and might damage their career opportunities because they would not be able to point to a paper on which they were first authors.
Don is a first-year graduate student applying to the National Science Foundation for a predoctoral fellowship. His work in a lab where he did a rotation project was later carried on successfully by others, and it appears that a manuscript will be prepared for publication by the end of the summer. However, the fellowship application deadline is June 1, and Don decides it would be advantageous to list a publication as "submitted." Without consulting the faculty member or other colleagues involved, Don makes up a title and author list for a "submitted" paper and cites it in his application.
After the application has been mailed, a lab member sees it and goes to the faculty member to ask about the "submitted" manuscript. Don admits to fabricating the submission of the paper but explains his actions by saying that he thought the practice was not uncommon in science.
The faculty members in Don's department demand that he withdraw his grant application and dismiss him from the graduate program. After leaving the university, Don applies for a master's degree, since he has fulfilled the course requirements. Although the department votes not to grant him a degree, the university administration does so because it is not stated in the university graduate bulletin that a student in Don's department must be in "good standing" to receive a degree. They fear that Don will bring suit against the university if the degree is denied. Likewise, nothing will appear in Don's university transcript regarding his dismissal.
May is a second-year graduate student preparing the written portion of her qualifying exam. She incorporates whole sentences and paragraphs verbatim from several published papers. She does not use quotation marks, but the sources are suggested by statements like "(see . . . for more details)." The faculty on the qualifying exam committee note inconsistencies in the writing styles of different paragraphs of the text and check the sources, uncovering May's plagiarism.
After discussion with the faculty, May's plagiarism is brought to the attention of the dean of the graduate school, whose responsibility it is to review such incidents. The graduate school regulations state that "plagiarism, that is, the failure in a dissertation, essay, or other written exercise to acknowledge ideas, research or language taken from others" is specifically prohibited. The dean expels May from the program with the stipulation that she can reapply for the next academic year.
Francine was just months away from finishing her Ph.D. dissertation when she realized that something was seriously amiss with the work of a fellow graduate student, Sylvia. Francine was convinced that Sylvia was not actually making the measurements she claimed to be making. They shared the same lab, but Sylvia rarely seemed to be there. Sometimes Francine saw research materials thrown away unopened. The results Sylvia was turning in to their common thesis advisor seemed too clean to be real.
Francine knew that she would soon need to ask her thesis advisor for a letter of recommendation for faculty and postdoc positions. If she raised the issue with her advisor now, she was sure that it would affect the letter of recommendation. Sylvia was a favorite of her advisor, who had often helped Sylvia before when her project ran into problems. Yet Francine also knew that if she waited to raise the issue the question would inevitably arise as to when she first suspected problems. Both Francine and her thesis advisor were using Sylvia's results in their own research. If Sylvia's results were inaccurate, they both needed to know as soon as possible.