On Peter Lawrence’s Article, The Heart of Research is Sick

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

Boy does he have it right on the nose.

lawrence-the-heart-of-research-is-sick-2011.pdf (application/pdf Object).

I know people who insist on putting their names on things their grad students did. There are others who do it more subtly. They are just as despicable.

I am proud to say that I had significant input on everything ever published with my name on it. I’ve had one or two co-authors who have said they felt bad because they didn’t feel they pulled their weight. In those cases, I was the one who insisted their name stay on the paper – they did have significant input, even if they didn’t do the actual writing. I’ve also had a few that were supposed to be joint efforts but the other author ended up contributing virtually nothing. Those STILL leave a bad taste in my mouth – AND make me forever wonder how much they actually contributed to any of their other co-authored efforts.

The basic rule is that credit always flows upwards. If you’re a student, your supervisor will get the credit. If you’re a group leader, your department head might get credit, for example, in the research assessment  exercise for rating UK universities. You don’t get rewarded for having discovered something
yourself. I think that has a poisonous effect. It encourages too many scientists to steal credit, to annex the discoveries of the young. To keep on top of the young people working for them, so that they can claim to have been involved and garner the credit for it. It’s become so built-in that people think that if somebody does something on their own, there’s something slightly suspicious about it.

The single, simplest thing that the granting agencies could do is to look backwards, when possible, rather than forwards. The system we have now is counter- productive, wasteful of time and energy. We get people to write a piece of fiction about what they’re planning to do. It’s a kind of intellectual  exercise – sometimes it relates to what they actually do, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a sort of game we have to play to get a grant.

“The idea that politically correct people have, that all professions will one day have equal numbers
of men and women is not only wrong, it’s silly.”


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