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January 2006


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Why opting for fraud?

My most dangerous idea was voiced earlier on this blog:

It appears frightening simple to found a scientific career on fabricated results alone - and to get away with it. Most of the scientists that were uncovered doing fraud did very foolish mistakes. More recently, Derek Lowe at In the pipeline wondered how one can actually live under the specter of being an imposter. I largely agree with his analysis of the situation but somehow do understand why you can opt for fraud instead of taking a real risk of failing rather than being uncovered.

There is an enormous pressure on scientists to succeed. You only have limited to time to succeed in a risky business, either because your contract is running out or because of competition. Do you want to be a third class researcher or an underachieving ivy league alumni - or a successful imposter? The emotional burden seems comparable. You should even have a lot fun if you take that road to hell (which seems like a stairway to limbo from down here - limbo ain't so bad, eh?).

Besides that, science is build on trust and I have no sympathy for anyone who opts for fraud rather than accepting the risk. The internet is a bad place to be sarcastic, I know. Don't consider the following advice to ensure your scientific career without being overly dependent on research results as a real.

Start as soon as you get your own lab to keep things in control. Grad school is too early (you'll graduate anyway, getting in is the difficult end). You can try enhancing your results as a Postdoc but don't push it, there are still people who don't like you and are too close to you. Once you have the lab to yourself, go all in.

Work on the forefront in a challenging area that is just too difficult yet boring for others to get in just to check some one else's results. Make sure you collaborate with a clinician that provides you who with whatever odd sample you might need. Don't worry, there is nothing an MD wouldn't do to get his name on a paper. Perform cross-disciplinary studies, employing expensive equipement on precious sample - who will ever repeat it?

In that respect, cell biology is be a good field, the findings are of great impact yet research is difficult and results are somewhat fishy in general. Gel and microscopy pictures are easy to fabricate. Most scientific institutions have site licenses for Photoshop and they all use it before publication anyway. Just use it creatively!

Don't forget some bioinformatics or statistics mumbo jumbo. The anoraks make excellent collaborators as they are not interested in the experimental procedures in the first place, and a call for more experimental data should not pose a problem right? Besides, there is so much data on the web that one could resubmit. Get one statistician to apply noise to it (build a model...) and another one to analyze it. No worries, they don't talk to each other anyway. The human interactome can be constructed from yeast and and worm interactions and 8000 random pairs of proteins at no sweat and you'd even beat existing technologies. Always leave room for further improvements in your next ground breaking work.

You should appear like a real scientist before you become a great one - make sure you are only somewhat successful, stay modest, you get the press coverage when you go down. Don't go to a different fields for publishing every month as a single author. You have all the time in the world, if you know you can do it.

Stem cell research might be a good call again in a few years after the field will recover a from the fallout of Dr. Hwang. He was an amateur anyway (but wore nice ties). Your data must be waterproof - only beginners ever re-use the same picture. It should not be too difficult to redo all the controls in different concentrations (and no samples).

Peer review won't stop you. The reviewers got to decide whether the work is believable and of significant interest, not whether it is true. You can always perform the experiments that the reviewers want - what else could they ask for ever anyway? Just make sure you don't resubmit too soon or declare that the results were sitting on your desk, you just did not include them for clarity.

The difficult part in science is coming up with an original idea anyway - and they all know what results they want to see. Make them happy. If you can come up with an original idea, you've *done* all the hard work. Instead, work on your nimbus. Make sure your Powerpoint presentations look convincing before the publication to spur some talk in the field.

Hire some bright yet dependent people - visa issues are a great handle to keep your personnel on track. To get the right mix, hire some bloke from your home country, who is a hopeless scientist (and knows about it) but brings your good mood to the lab and can act as a bully. He might not even notice what you are up to and praise you as a God (get some satisfaction out of it, after all you gave up the opportunity in commercial enterprises to do good to society).

Go down in style! Wait until you have achieved tenure to ensure maximum damage for the institution you work for - that'll also maximize the press coverage (watch your wardrobe). The wife or the daughter of the dean, preferably both, should be involved in some way. You can still call it an attempt to show the world how leaky the system really is. Write a book about it, laugh at them - these things sell well. You don't even have to face financial consequences - it's all tax payers money anyway - your money, right? And everyone is going to read your blog finally (please, please-please-please link here - promised?)

And if they don't catch you? Switch into a new field immediately after getting tenure, hire some good postdocs that do good work for you finally. Or don't switch, they can even show that you are a visionary, not an imposter. The world of science is yours, take your piece, you deserve it. Only desperate people found companies to rip off investors. Found a lab!
Kargis (guest) - 2006-01-11 22:35

good for you

"Don't worry, there is nothing an MD wouldn't do to get his name on a paper."

Some of us just plain do the work. If you want to perpetuate the unseemly and counterproductive rift between MDs and PhDs alive and well, just keep it up. Way to go.

I work in a basic science lab at a major university, still have clinical duties, and work as hard as anyone else over here. None of the papers I'm on are due to providing clinical samples.


spitshine - 2006-01-12 08:27

so much for the controversy

The above post might be a little more controversial than my previous ramblings but I am surprised that you picked the MD/PhD rift.
I met a number of clinicians that perform real solid research myself and obtained my degree from the medical faculty. By the way, there is nothing wrong with appearing on the author list if you provide training, background information on a disease or clinical samples.
The ongoing quarrles between MDs and PhD is the same interface problem that exists between statisticians and experimentators, and even computer scientists and mathematicians. I have no interest in perpetuating any of them. But thanks for speaking up.

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