Gather the reviews that you got for your research papers and grant applications. Everyone has one or more of those idiotic reviewers’ comments. Bring them out to have some fun. 🙂
Science is a business of ideas. By its very definition, researchers are required to generate new ideas. However, the ideas do not pop up in vacuum. Astute researchers have to master the literature, learn where the gaps in the current field of research exist and then find a feasible way to fill those gaps.
The way the current research training is done, the majority of researchers eventually become rigid in their ideas. Their research becomes dull and boring. In the name of ‘detailed study’ they keep burrowing deeper into descriptive research. Years of battles with paper publications, failed grant applications and stress of obtaining tenure and load of teaching wears them out. Only few remain as enthusiastic as they were in the beginnings of their career. Of those who remain enthusiastic, most are not driven by scientific inquiry but by the social and political thrill of it.
Surviving on the stolen ideas of trainees and postdocs becomes a viable means of their academic lives. But they have to do it in a sophisticated way. Here are a few simple ways to do it:
1. ‘Encourage’ every trainee applicant to write a 2 page mock research proposal. This is a shotgun approach whereby anyone showing an interest in your research can be asked to provide idea of what to do. You then take those ideas and adopt them in your current research.
2. Group discussions/brain storming in lab. Pretend that you are helping people bring out their best. Make them bust their ass to beat each other’s ideas and then pick all the good ones as your own.
3. Once the trainee presents a great idea with some interesting preliminary data, kill his/her enthusiasm by saying that the idea is useless, not relevant, premature, too complex for the current state of science etc. During the next few months, gently incorporate the idea in your casual talks. Finally, give the project to someone other than the originator of the idea as your own.
4. Make your trainees write a fellowship proposal. Incorporate those questions as an aim in your own grant. Pretend that it was all your own to begin with.
There are many more subtle ways you can steal the idea of your trainees to call your own. With the years of toiling under your own mentor, you have consciously or unconsciously picked up techniques to put down your colleagues and steal intellectual property. Now it is your turn to perpetuate it. Do it with style, do it with authority and when challenged, you can always say that all data and ideas belong to NIH or the institution. You only happen to be an agent of theft (read hired thief).
There are other better ways as you climb up the ladder of your academic career. You can steal from other labs by being a reviewer. Oh, don’t give me the shit about ethics and confidentiality. You know what I mean.
If everything else fails, you can also resort to saying that ideas are not novel it is the ability to materialize them matters.
Lawyers are universally loathed for their ability to fudge the truth. In reality, scientists can be worse than lawyers. They wear the cloak of honesty and objectivity, but the unscrupulous ones are constantly twisting the truth, presenting half-truth, and backstabbing with hidden dagger of greed and deception.
Postdocs are the slaves of the modern ‘Science Plantations’. If you look carefully, some cases of horrible treatments of the postdocs may just qualify to be the cases of human trafficking. Strong horrifying words? You betcha!
There used to be a time when postdoc-ing was done only to finish an unfinished business of a project or to get highly desirable additional training to conduct independent research. Not anymore!
Postdocs are the workhorses of the modern labs. Given a choice, a scientist with his own lab will hire a postdoc rather than a technician. Why? Read the first line- a postdoc is a virtual slave.
- A technician will work 8 to 5; a postdoc will practically live in the lab.
- A technician has a life outside the lab; a postdoc has never seen life, neither here nor in his own country.
- A technician’s rights are protected by the institution and government’s labor laws; who gives a fuck to the postdoc?
- A technician will do research only if you have a brain to tell him what to do; a postdoc will bust his ass to find a new project even if you are a dud.
- A technician observes weekends and holidays; a postdoc will be tormented by the guilt of holidays.
- You tell a technician about the virtues of scientific tempo and most likely he will give you the middle finger; you can make the postdoc cry in shame by telling him that he is not up to the snuff.
- You ask a technician to work harder and you will see the bird flipped up again; a postdoc will kowtow to you because you got the power of writing the reference letter for him.
- You cannot threaten a technician about the pending immigration visa; you can manipulate the postdoc’s entire life by dangling the visa/immigration/green card in front.
- You have to pay a technician a salary that is defined by the institution/labor law; you pay what you think is ‘commensurate with experience’ to the postdoc, and if you are a real asshole, you can make the postdoc even work for free in your lab as a volunteer.
- A technician will only do what a job description is; you can make postdoc do any dirty job in the lab or, if you are a scum bag, even your dirty laundry at home.
- You cannot easily find a good technician who can do the job right; you can find hundreds of mail-order postdocs simply by placing a 10 dollar advertisement in Science magazine.
So, what do you want? A technician or a postdoc?
It has been a while since the last post. It was not a ‘mysterious disappearance’. No, I have not been manhandled or killed. Not yet.
I noticed an article (click here) that some vigilante group has been sending accusatory notices targeting stem-cell researchers of their wrongdoings. This has rattled the researchers and the publishers alike.
Well, if you look at it, the business of science has been given a lot of freedom to operate, and enormous amounts of trust has been put into scientists’ integrity, when it comes to their conduct.
Scientists obtain sumptuous chunk of money from the exchequer and when bad things happen, they simply say, “Oops! We fucked!” There are practically no consequences to their misdeeds.
Publishing a research paper is an enormous undertaking. It not only takes time, money and collaborative effort of the authors involved, but it also affects a huge number of researchers across the globe.
When someone produces and publishes fraudulent data in a major journal, it means years of work and at least a quarter million dollar worth of time and reagent go down the toilet.
Who pays for this? People pay for this. But, all the culprit gets is a slap on the wrist. The culprits are told not to participate in any publicly funded program in any manner, and sometimes, the institution washes its hands with them. That’s it. In fact, in most cases, the culprit returns to science to continue.
When a junior scientist publishes fraudulent results, it takes a while before the results could be verified by other researchers. There is the ‘window of opportunity’ during which the junior scientist moves on to find a cushy job and by the time the fraud is exposed, he or she has obtained job security. The senior scientist, on the other hand, has nothing to lose because he/she can blame the person who has already left the lab. So it is convenient to everyone.
Anywhere else, one would be tried in a criminal court for such misappropriation of public funds and will likely be thrown in the prison, if the guilt is proven. Not in science.
Why? Because it is a ‘noble’ profession. Scientists walk with an aura around them that rivals that of the angels. Some even think that they are gods.
So, the question is, whether such misbehavior of the unscrupulous scientists be pardoned, or it should be consider a criminal act? Only public can decide.
Has anyone noticed that suddenly there is a mushrooming growth of companies offering antibodies. Anything you can think of, protein, DNA, acetylation, phosphorylation, methylation- nothing is sacred anymore. All the Nature’s secrets can be revealed by these antibodies.
In the antibody, the researchers have found a wonderful tool to snub that stupid reviewer who doubts their hypothesis that their favorite protein has a wonderful modification called ‘titillation’. If you isolate your favorite protein under inebriated conditions looking at the full moon through your laboratory window (only if you have a window in your lab), the protein gets titillated. Hell, no one has any clue what this titillation of the protein does, but all you have to do is to buy an anti-titillation antibody supplied by the BigAss Biotech company and smear it on your immunoblot.
So what if more protein bands light up than are catalogued in the proteome database, you are on the front grille of the ‘omic’ discovery train. How can the reviewer ever refute your meticulous selection of the protein band that runs at the right size. For God’s sake (yeah I mean God, the ultimate reviewer) you even stripped (hopefully the blot) and reprobed with another funky antibody to again select the correct size band. And you also know that if in your Experimental Methods section you write ‘anti-titillation antibody was used (BigAss Biotech, Timbuktu) according to manufacturer’s protocol’, no one, even God, can question its validity.
With the advent of proteomics, the new surge of antibody selling companies is not surprising. More research is done using antibodies. But it is more so because selling antibodies is a lucrative business. It is almost a scam. There is a well-known antibody company that has earned its reputation and fortune by selling antibodies that do not work. Yet, it has managed to stay in business for almost 20 years!
Others are not any better. Another company pretends to support and promote science by sponsoring and organizing scientific conferences and symposia. They also invite free review of their products by researchers and end-users. Oh give me a break. If the end-user had time, he or she would have written that paper they have been contemplating for months, or at least completed the laboratory notebook.
Well, there is another ploy, make antibodies to anything. It is easy. Search the database for proteins, find the cDNA sequence, produce recombinant protein in some kind of biological system and inject the partially purified protein into your animal of choice. Antibody will be produced in a few weeks. Most of these companies do not do any testing or quality control.
If you ask the Technical Support of the company, they will offer you something like this, “buy our antibody and see if it works. If it does not work, we will give you another antibody’.
No, thank you sir! I am NOT going to test your lousy antibody at my expense! How stupid I have to be with my MD, PhD degree to buy a product at inflated price with no guarantee, and to test it so that you could refer to my work and my endorsement to make a killing?
Did I say a killing? Yes, I did. Antibodies sell at a profit where DeBeers would look like the corner grocery store. Apparently, they have got knuckleheads working for them in their planning division otherwise, they would quit the blood diamond business and dive into the real blood business of making antibodies.
Antibodies cost more than diamonds! Do your maths, baby! An aliquot of 100 microgram (usual packing size) costs on average US$ 300! A 1 carat diamond (1 carat= 200 mg) costs approximately 10,000 dollars. Remember that the inflection point for the price rise in diamonds is at 1 carat size, so this is a generous comparison. Now if you see, a diamond would cost you at a rate of 5 cents per microgram but an antibody will cost you about 3 US dollars per microgram! Now that is a killing if you consider that a Diamond is forever, but an antibody…? Well, go figure!
Just because NIH gave you that money to spend, don’t spend on crap. Demand the best and insist on quality control. If they fail to do that, make your own antibody. There are numerous vendors who will produce antibodies for you at a fraction of the purchase cost. What are you scared of? In the worst case, your titillation will go undetected.