Like other occupations, science requires its practitioners to come up with tangible products. The pressure to produce—coupled with uncertainties about ownership of ideas, the proper way to assess scientific output (quantity or quality?), the management of competing interests, and the division of labor in research—is associated with a number of behaviors that do not quite reach the threshold of FFP but nevertheless are regarded by scientists as misconduct. The problems mentioned by members of our focus groups included: manipulation of the review system, (improper) control of research by funders, difficulties in assigning authorship, exploitation of junior colleagues, unreported conflicts of interest, the theft of ideas from conference papers and grant proposals, publishing the same thing twice (or more), withholding of data, and ignoring teaching responsibilities.
Several respondents had stories of junior colleagues who had been exploited. We heard many accounts of professors using the work of graduate students and post-docs without permission or attribution, of professors pitting post-docs against each other, and of post-docs being forced to sign agreements promising that they would never work in the area of their sponsoring professor.
This fear of competition from one’s students and post-docs highlights a structural dilemma in the training of scientists: to succeed in science it is important to attract the most talented graduate students and new PhDs, but these bright young researchers, once trained, become one’s competition:
“When I left my post doc, I was told, “don’t compete with me, you won’t win.” And you know it was a given that you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t win … for that particular person I knew up front that he was not an easy person. I knew it … There was no question, this is mine, and it is like signing a paper, “this is mine. I’ll teach you what I know, but any particular intellectual property, don’t mess with me.”
Ideas are the currency of science; our respondents expressed grave concern over having their ideas stolen:
“I’m always wary of submitting grants to study sections, because those people who sit on the study sections, it’s not unknown for them to take your ideas, kill your grant, and then take and do it. And I think all of us have either had that happen to them or know somebody who had that happen to them.”
The need to produce is often translated into the need to get funding. Our respondents worried about the kind of compromises they and their colleagues are forced to make simply to keep the funds flowing:
“For example, a particular study that I’m involved in is about drugs to … offset the effect of radiation … [The] company that makes [the] drug … does not want a certain control group in the study and will not fund the study if that control group is there … . there’s nothing illegal about [this], and I know for a fact it happens all the time and that’s the way it goes. It’s because government can’t pony up enough money to do all the clinical research that needs to get done. In this … study … the individual who’s going to be principal investigator is an untenured assistant professor … And you know, screwing around with this drug company, negotiating the study, has cost her a lot of time, and she, it’s going to make it harder for her to get tenure. And the pressure is clearly on her to knuckle under. I mean, she could have started that study months ago if she’d just said, sure, I’ll do whatever you want, give me the money.”