Friday, July 4, 2008

An embarrassing moment -- and a lesson in ethics

A few days ago, I recommended a review article on fMRI by Nikos Logothetis that just appeared in Nature. Now, Logothetis appears there again, but in a more dodgy context.

I recommend as reading a piece on the sociology of science and scientific conduct that just came out in Nature. The article tells the embarrassing saga of a dataset acquired by two former Logothetis trainees and published in the journal Human Brain Mapping this past May.

I will spare Talking Brains readers the details -- they are painfully obvious from the report by Alison Abbott. But I will say that, as far as I am concerned, everybody looks really LAME in this story! The two authors should not have proceeded to the publication stage without involving the PI much more closely, given the origin of the data; the PI should show more perspective and coolitude and chillaxity (both closely related to Stephen Colbert's truthiness) -- and write a calm and carefully argued response, if the stakes are really that high; the journal Human Brain Mapping should have allowed time for a published response, given that that is not uncommon for journals (even I have been involved in a controversy in which there were responses in the same issue); Nature should not write about this -- unless this is NPG's new Nature People (nobody wins with this type of hype, I bet).

I do think this is a good place for a brief discussion -- and poll -- on how to deal with papers well in advance. Do we all always agree how a given project will be divided up and written up, etc.? Should a PI, say in a lab meeting, discuss who/what/how/when of a paper before it happens? A lot of ethical issues come up that merit some thought. I, for one, am always a little confused on what is exactly the right thing to do. Things are complicated -- but are there sensible guidelines, especially in big labs with lots of people working on lots of projects?

1 comment:

Greg Hickok said...

LOVE the Nature People concept. I'm sure there's plenty of neurosubstance dependence, Granger causality triangles, kinky mirror fetishes, and intellectual property battles in academia to keep the pages dripping with juicy tidbits for years. People want to KNOW!

I can just imagine the teasers:

Conference Fashion Do's and Don'ts: why you should bring more than one shirt to a meeting.

Poster Popout: Color Scheme Tips from the Pros.

Seven Things You Should Never Do at 3T.

Home Remedies to Cure SD (SQUID Dysfunction)


I'm also looking forward to the 50 Most Nerdly People Double Issue!