Thursday, June 09, 2005

"Scientists Behaving Badly" and "Unreasonable Managerial Demands"

An article in Nature reports on "Scientists Behaving Badly."(1) This was a broadly based anonymous survey, with a 52% response rate, and a sample size of 3247. Of note, the numbers of respondents who reported engaging in the following behaviors in the last three years were:
  • Falsifying or "cooking" research data - 0.3%
  • Ignoring major aspects of human-subject requirements - 0.3%
  • Failing to present data that contradicts one's own previous research - 6.0%
  • Improperly assigning authorship credit - 10.0%
  • Changing the design, methodology, or results of a study in response to pressure from a funding source - 15.5%
The authors noted "a proper understanding of misbehaviour requires that attention be given to the negative aspects of the research environment. The modern scientist faces intense competition, and is further burdened by difficult, sometimes unreasonable, regulation, social, and managerial demands."
This assertion was probably written before the publication in the New England Journal of Medicine of an article that showed what a large proportion of medical schools and academic medical centers are willing to sign away faculty members' control of their research to research sponsors (see our previous post here.) That article showed that about 2/3 of schools and medical centers were willing to sign away their faculty members' ability to alter research methods specified by the sponsor, and about 1/2 were willing to let the sponsor write up the research reports, which faculty could comment on, but not change, even though they were likely to be listed as principle authors. The data in the NEJM article is certainly compatible with the proportion of respondents to the Nature study who noted "pressure from a funding source." Thus, the "managerial" demands that researchers face may often go beyond merely being difficult, or even unreasonable.
This is just another reminder of the spectre of powerful health care organizations acting in conflict with physicians' and medical researchers' core values.
How much more evidence will be needed before something is done about how such organizations are lead?
1. Martinson BC, Anderson MS, deVries R. Scientists behaving badly. Nature 2005; 435: 737-8.

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