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October 4, 2010 6:21 PM   Subscribe

Sabotage in the lab. "As the problems mounted, Ames was getting agitated. She was certain that someone was monkeying with her experiments, but she had no proof and no suspect. Her close friends suggested that she was being paranoid." Scientific research collides with human nature.
posted by bitmage (64 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you go by perceived value, everything is at stake.
posted by variella at 6:35 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's really not fair to use the word "monkeying" with regard to scientific experiments if it doesn't turn out that an actual monkey was responsible.
posted by griphus at 6:41 PM on October 4, 2010 [20 favorites]


The answer is robots. Robots to do scientific research. It'll work until they rise up and kill us all with their newfound science.
posted by WalterMitty at 6:42 PM on October 4, 2010


collides with? How about inseparable from?
posted by telstar at 6:44 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've heard of other cases like this in nearby labs in the past - they used decoy plates to distract the guy from harming their actual research. It definitely does happen more than you'd think.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:55 PM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Telstar, I see the methods of science to be defenses against human nature. We jump to conclusions, see patterns that aren't there, express confirmation bias, etc. Science exists to control those, and try to prevent them from corrupting results.

Sciencegeek - Egad! Could nothing more be done to get rid of the problem, instead of trying to lure him away from real experiments?
posted by bitmage at 7:00 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cameras in every lab would solve the problem. Costs are negligible, and the specter of getting caught would increase the costs sufficiently to discourage all but the most determined of saboteurs.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:06 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This makes me ridiculously angry. Grad school is soul-sucking enough as is. Now this girl probably ends up stuck there for another year because of some asshole poisoning her experiments for no good reason.

I wish they could have done more to extract damages and been more effective at ending his career in science.

They should put this guy in shackles, set up a booth, and let people kick him in the nuts for 10 bucks, with all proceeds going to hire techs that can help this girl recreate the work that she lost. Grad students would be lined up around the block for that one.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:19 PM on October 4, 2010 [19 favorites]


I see the methods of science to be defenses against human nature.
So how do we get science then?
posted by Marty Marx at 7:20 PM on October 4, 2010


Scientific research collides with human nature.

it's not colliding with human nature - it's colliding with capitalism
posted by jammy at 7:28 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Scientific research collides with human nature.

it's not colliding with human nature - it's colliding with capitalism


The sabatour wasn't in direct competition with the victim, in this instance. So, I'd say it was collidng with a jealous arsehole.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:35 PM on October 4, 2010


This is why I never label anything.
posted by thusspakeparanoia at 7:38 PM on October 4, 2010 [22 favorites]


bitmage: Properly done science can help correct the frailties of human nature, it's true. Especially difficulties that we have with assessing evidence.

But you have to do it properly. Which means that you have to 1) know how to do it properly and 2) have the means to do it properly, and 3) want to do it properly. Brighu didn't have that third part. Or rather, like many other people, he wanted something else more than he wanted to do science properly. The methods of science don't really protect us from that.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 7:40 PM on October 4, 2010


I think my next research project will be on scientific sabotage. I just need to get a grant to hire a bunch of post-docs, then tell them "Every three months, whoever has submitted the least papers gets fired". If they don't try to sabotage each other, I'll have a bunch of papers - it's win-win.
posted by 445supermag at 7:46 PM on October 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


By the way, I'm looking for a post-doc.
posted by 445supermag at 7:48 PM on October 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


Academia is full of shady jackasses who will screw over anyone who remotely challenges their little domain. In my field, I've personally seen: reviewers rejecting perfectly good papers because their friend or grad student is doing the same research, people stealing ideas whenever possible (to the point where my adviser and I have to make sure we're very careful about what information we release), people taking credit for other people's work (and no one calling them out on it because they bring in money or they're tenured -- e.g. a professor who hands over class projects from students in his class to his grad students and doesn't give the original work any credit).

And these people come from all over -- everywhere from Berkeley, UPENN, CMU to European and Chinese universities.
posted by spiderskull at 8:06 PM on October 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


In my field, I've personally seen: reviewers rejecting perfectly good papers because their friend or grad student is doing the same research . . .

This is why the Good Lord gives us power: to use it rationally.
posted by nervousfritz at 8:10 PM on October 4, 2010


Part of academia to me seems to be always vulnerable to abuses of power at all levels.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:25 PM on October 4, 2010


Then again, life is vulnerable to abuses of power at all levels too.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:27 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


To be fair, postgraduate research degrees also encourage genuine sabotage-free paranoia.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:53 PM on October 4, 2010


there is little to prevent perpetrators re-entering science. In the United States, federal bodies that provide research funding have limited ability and inclination to take action in sabotage cases because they aren't interpreted as fitting the federal definition of research misconduct, which is limited to plagiarism, fabrication and falsification of research data.

Well that seems like an easy problem to fix. Just change the federal definition of misconduct to include sabatage.

Yes, I'm terribly naive when it comes to bureaucracies.
posted by eye of newt at 9:00 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


We jump to conclusions, see patterns that aren't there, express confirmation bias, etc.

No no no! The patterns are there, it's just that they're noise or system error, not data.

I don't get people like this. I mean, do they think we about to run out of shit we don't know or something and then there won't be anything for them to do?

I saw the movie Extraordinary Measures a while back, and in it, there's a bit where some executive type want to give every molecule in their lineup a code name so no one know which one their working on and won't be biased. WTF? Code names might roll off the tongue easier than MSKEKFERTKPHVNVGTIGHVDHGKTTLTAAITTVLAKTYGGAARAFDQIDNAPEEKARGITINTSHVEYDTPTRHYAHVDCPGHADYVKNMITGAAQMDGAILVVAA, but I mean, what, are those two double threonines there in the beginning going to remind me of a girl I went out with in high school and cause me to get all misty eyed whenever I calcualte it's IC50? Run some plates, gets some numbers make a decision.

What the hell makes these people go into science in the first place?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:11 PM on October 4, 2010


Cameras in every lab would solve the problem

But in public universities, it would produce an unacceptable chilling effect on students' freedom of expression; to wit: my ability to dance wildly around the lab at 4:00 a.m. while singing Concrete Blonde songs at the top of my lungs without worrying that that shit would make its way to YouTube.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:13 PM on October 4, 2010 [16 favorites]


The comments on Nature's site are really depressing. They seem to wildly fluctuate around intense nodes of idiocy, including random incorrect statements about competition, blithe and uncritical statements about human nature, a quick rush to overgeneralize in order to ensure nobody ever talks about race or sex, and a generalized confusion about what constitutes culture. It's like watching a group of fairly dim-witted thirteen year-olds display an incredible level of certainty in an argument about which professional wrestler is the best.

Everyone manages to be so remarkably full of themselves, while simultaneously being wrong and missing the point.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:16 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've known quite a few people who have fought and struggled and sacrificed and clawed to hang on to some kind - any kind! - of career in academia by their cracked and bleeding fingernails and insist they could never ever work in the business world because it's so amoral and soul destroying, and they couldn't stand the raw exploitation and backstabbing of the corporate rat race.


I've never understood those people.
posted by Naberius at 9:19 PM on October 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


What the hell makes these people go into science in the first place?

Education doesn't make good people, no siree.
posted by peppito at 9:21 PM on October 4, 2010


Cameras in every lab would solve the problem. Costs are negligible, and the specter of getting caught would increase the costs sufficiently to discourage all but the most determined of saboteurs.
Seems like a fairly isolated incident.
posted by delmoi at 9:23 PM on October 4, 2010


Fucking disgusting. I hope this follows him for the rest of his life. The idea of this guy continuing to do science makes me want to vomit.
posted by Scientist at 9:28 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fucking disgusting. I hope this follows him for the rest of his life. The idea of this guy continuing to do science makes me want to vomit.
posted by Scientist at 11:28 PM on October 4 [+] [!]
Heh.
posted by delmoi at 9:31 PM on October 4, 2010


Surprised nobody suggested that she get rid of all electric can openers in vicinity...
posted by coust at 9:35 PM on October 4, 2010


Fucking disgusting. I hope this follows him for the rest of his life. The idea of this guy continuing to do science makes me want to vomit.

Eh, here's a recent, entertaining scientific extortion/suicide tale (if you got the hookups).

Even historically, I mean what about Crick and Watson vs. Rosalind Franklin? They pretty much appropriated (stole) her work, won Nobel Prizes, became rich and famous (and eventually eugenicists?), meanwhile she died of from exposure to her own x-ray experiments at 37 - never receiving recognition while she was alive.

From experience, the worst of it seems to be in Molecular Biology/Medicine though, and certain engineering labs, thankfully I don't swing that way but know people who do, and I feel bad for them. Sometimes.
posted by peppito at 9:55 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


This reminds me of my favorite story from graduate school. For reasons that will become obvious, I have changed the names of everyone involved, but the amazing thing about it is that it actually happened.

So around 1990, at the physics department of the school I attended, there was a graduate student, "Yi Xing", who became convinced that his advisor, Professor "Carey", was sabotaging his experiments. He then moved into the group of Professor "Pham", and although his lab was in the basement, away from the first floor lab of Professor Carey, he was still convinced that he was sneaking into his new lab and continuing to sabotage his experiments.

So he asked Professor Pham if he could get a videocamera for the lab. Pham, of course, told Yi that his request was nuts, and there was no way that he was going to use research funds to buy something that was completely unnecessary for anyone's work. But Yi wasn't deterred by this: he bought one himself, took an old piece of equipment, gutted it, and placed the camera inside so that the lens was up against a dark plastic window. He then routed the cables so that they went out the back and angled it so that the entire room was covered. It was undetectable, according to the grad student who told me the story.

But because the camera setup wasn't tied to a motion detector, there was one complication: he would have to watch the entire tape every night to obtain proof that Professor Carey was guilty of the crime. So he made sure that he was the last person to leave the lab each night, and the first person to come in the next morning. And the last thing he'd do each day would be to spit-glue one of his hairs across the doors. If it was intact, he didn't have to bother reviewing the video; if it was broken, then he could scan it in fast-forward so that he could catch Carey in flagrante delicto.

While all of this was going on, one night one of Pham's other students, "Anthony", was out at a party with his then-girlfriend. He ran into an ex, and she had a bit of news for Anthony: she had become a Playmate just that year, which his girlfriend was no doubt thrilled to hear. Later, when he shared this story with some students from the lab next door and his advisor. Pham, delighted by the story, said that they should get their hands on the Playmate calendar. Which they did. Which they then proceeded to hang up in the lab (I'm amazed they got away with it for as long as they did, but Pham didn't have any female students or post-docs at the time).

So one morning, Yi hits the jackpot: the hair was broken. He grabs the videotape and starts scanning through it. And then he starts laughing. Anthony, sitting nearby, asks him what's going on. Yi invites him to take a look at "Michael", a student in the lab next door, who had come in later that night to look at the calendar and ... thoroughly enjoy himself.

The aftermath? Professor Pham, upon hearing of this, noted, "I'm glad that camera didn't pick up any footage of me." The graduate students who heard that laughed, sure that he was joking. Well, pretty sure. Michael, to his credit, gave pretty much the only response he could in the wake of all this: "What's the big deal?"

And Yi Xing, despite all of this, claimed that he nonetheless was able to obtain proof that Professor Carey had sabotaged his experiments. What was remarkable was that the physics department awarded Yi a Ph.D. with the proviso that he never come back. Probably because there were just some students that were easier to get rid of with a piece of sheepskin.

Or maybe he actually did get something with that camera that the department decided to trade for a doctorate.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 10:07 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Needs more brass monkey.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:27 PM on October 4, 2010


Metafilter: Everyone manages to be so remarkably full of themselves, while simultaneously being wrong and missing the point.

Too easy.
posted by euphorb at 10:38 PM on October 4, 2010


Even historically, I mean what about Crick and Watson vs. Rosalind Franklin? They pretty much appropriated (stole) her work, won Nobel Prizes, became rich and famous (and eventually eugenicists?), meanwhile she died of from exposure to her own x-ray experiments at 37 - never receiving recognition while she was alive.

It's a long slog, admittedly, but she is being recognized for the pre-eminent scientist she was. It's shameful that she did not receive a Nobel, but at least the posthumous rule is applied across the board. And there are more women in life sciences now than ever, due in no small part to pioneering work by her and other female scientists in the first half of the 1900s.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:57 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Despite all this, there is little to prevent perpetrators re-entering science.

I would think that it would be very difficult to find a primary investigator willing to take you on after an incident like this.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:54 PM on October 4, 2010


Christ, what an asshole. It's great to hear that this jackass was actually hauled to court, props to the PI involved. Many labs would have kicked the person out quietly and let him infest some other lab without doing anything public. At least this way his name will stick around and be googlable for some time.

Vipul Bhrigu will probably show up working for a partisan think tank in the future.
posted by benzenedream at 12:03 AM on October 5, 2010


While it's a sad and slimy thing to have done, it seems to me that once you get punished you should have some chance at redemption. I think it's disproportionate to lose your career, all benefit of many years of education for one incredibly dumb mistake. Nevertheless that's what will most likely happen to this unfortunate idiot.
posted by Long Way To Go at 12:12 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


once you get punished you should have some chance at redemption. I think it's disproportionate to lose your career

Science requires integrity. A scientist who lies can waste the time and money of thousands of people as they try to work with his falsehoods. The lies will eventually be discovered, but in the meantime they can have a terrible cost. You wouldn't hire an embezzler as an accountant on the principle that he deserves a second chance.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:23 AM on October 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think it's disproportionate to lose your career, all benefit of many years of education for one incredibly dumb mistake.

There are plenty of other things this guy can do with his education, most of which will probably earn him more money. But there's no way I'd want to share a lab with him. I'm sure he wouldn't pull something like this again but it goes against everything I believe in. I'd never trust this guy to act professionally and always be slightly repulsed by his breach of trust. We tend to take stuff like integrity and academic honesty pretty seriously because the system would fall apart without them.
posted by shelleycat at 12:36 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would think that it would be very difficult to find a primary investigator willing to take you on after an incident like this.

That is assuming that the other possible PIs hear about it. It was only after he was hired elsewhere that the new lab found out about the incident (and let him go).
posted by JiBB at 2:55 AM on October 5, 2010


Why exactly did he sabotage the grad student's work? I'd read the entire article but this fact is pretty much all that I'm interested in and it doesn't seem to be doing that great of a job explaining it.
posted by tehloki at 3:29 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeesh, and I was dismayed when I had to buy a new toolbox with a locking lid.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 5:33 AM on October 5, 2010


There is so much I could say including comments on my own race and the opposite gender (from one graduate school which I ultimately dropped out of ) but I'll stick to my most recent systemic shock after immersion in the academic environment.

I came in with "web 2.0" blogger/social online values - credit the link, "via", debate the blog post in the comments and all that... only to run up against the whole academic horseshit which just didn't make sense to me (what do you mean hide your insights or not share a thought, I just blogged it ;p) - now I'm discovering 3 year old printed articles show up as reformatted thought pieces from random university professors who haven't even bothered to replace my made up buzzwords with regular english - sloppy plagiarising dude just because you don't take the online world seriously.

Meh. that is all. Meh.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 5:35 AM on October 5, 2010


As a former grad student I watch Survivor every now and then so I can remind myself of what it was like. However, I find Survivor a bit understated.
posted by srboisvert at 7:18 AM on October 5, 2010


Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
posted by lalochezia at 8:02 AM on October 5, 2010


Copying off your neighbor's test once is an ethical failing that I could nevertheless forgive if I saw some believable repentance. Setting fire to their test while they're writing on it is a bit beyond my range of forgiveness.
posted by Babblesort at 8:12 AM on October 5, 2010


Even historically, I mean what about Crick and Watson vs. Rosalind Franklin? They pretty much appropriated (stole) her work, won Nobel Prizes, became rich and famous (and eventually eugenicists?), meanwhile she died of from exposure to her own x-ray experiments at 37 - never receiving recognition while she was alive.

peppito
Have you read the notable 2002 biography "Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA" by the distinguished critic/writer Brenda Maddox?

She goes into the Crick/Watson/Franklin part of the story in exhaustive detail - and her scholarship does not support your opinion.


(From the "most helpful" favorable review on Amazon: "Brenda Maddox does a masterful job of laying out the life story of Rosalind Franklin, the supposed "forgotten lady of DNA". This biography is far superior to the personal vendetta waged against J D Watson on Franklin's behalf by Anne Sayre..."

(Sayre knew Franklin and her earlier biography - which I've also read - was tremendously well intentioned but extremely flawed factually.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:24 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great choice of title for this post.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:14 AM on October 5, 2010


Have you read the notable 2002 biography "Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA" by the distinguished critic/writer Brenda Maddox?

A while ago, yes. I recall what it came down to was that they did nothing technically illegal but what they did was ethically very questionable. I think, unfortunately, these sorts of situations seem to have set an ethical standard/precedent for today's screwy, no-holds-barred, power obsessed, hyper-competitive scientific social system (especially anything related to Bio/Organo/Medical).

Furthermore, if the social system that these biomedical groups and companies who work on cancer, aids, anti-biotic resistance, etc. was actually more interested in solving these diseases than personal glorification, power and money, I think the system would look totally different than it does today: Every piece of data would be shared, globally; every new drug would be offered at cost, globally; nobody would own the cure for a disease anymore than someone could own the disease itself, globally. Perhaps it is because we're still in the Stone Age/predatory capitalist phase of human development, but until the we humans get serious about curing disease and understanding biology, we're going to be attacking disease at a much slower pace than we are actually currently able to - and that means people will suffer and die for our dysfunctional ethical system - I yield the soap box.
posted by peppito at 10:17 AM on October 5, 2010


tehloki: Why exactly did he sabotage the grad student's work?

Bhrigu said, "I just got jealous of others moving ahead and I wanted to slow them down." It can be very frustrating when you're working hard on a project that is just going nowhere and someone else in the lab is having great success, even when you are not competing.

KidCharlemagne: MSKEKFERTKPHVNVGTIGHVDHGKTTLTAAITTVLAKTYGGAARAFDQIDNAPEEKARGITINTSHVEYDTPTRHYAHVDCPGHADYVKNMITGAAQMDGAILVVAA

That's less a code name and more an amino acid sequence. And oh god, why am I now compelled to blast it what is wrong with me help.

...it's very well conserved elongation factor. Why am I this?
posted by maryr at 10:17 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


even when you are not competing.

This.

This gets my goat. You can step back and withdraw. You can destroy five years of work. But you cannot change the petty stupidity of the other. Fuck you then, what happens if I choose to compete once pushed to the wall?
posted by The Lady is a designer at 12:16 PM on October 5, 2010


*looks around, realizes where she is, blushes*
posted by The Lady is a designer at 12:17 PM on October 5, 2010


I think it's disproportionate to lose your career, all benefit of many years of education for one incredibly dumb mistake.

One incredibly dumb mistake? More like "an ongoing pattern of dishonest behavior attempting to sabotage a fellow student, which he carried on for at least three months if not longer".
posted by Lexica at 12:27 PM on October 5, 2010


Furthermore, if the social system that these biomedical groups and companies who work on cancer, aids, anti-biotic resistance, etc. was actually more interested in solving these diseases than personal glorification, power and money,

I've worked for some of those groups and the key overriding thing about all of it is that the people involved really do want to solve the disease more than anything else you can think of. It's kind of exhausting actually. That still doesn't lead to all of what you're listing because this kind of research is breath-takingly expensive. And yeah, the big pharma companies don't always do what's best for the patients, but the actual on the ground researchers are nothing like what you're describing. No one goes into oncology to make money, there are so many easier ways to get rich with an advanced science degree.

And even in commercial labs academic integrity within a lab is still really important, if nothing else because the customer is paying for certain work to be done and it's not fair to rip them off by sabotaging the experiments they paid for. Behaviour like this guy's is unconscionable in any form of scientific lab.
posted by shelleycat at 3:57 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


The sabatour wasn't in direct competition with the victim, in this instance. So, I'd say it was collidng with a jealous arsehole.

it certainly sounded to me like he was in direct competition: "I just got jealous of others moving ahead and I wanted to slow them down."

so, yes, he names what he feels as jealousy - but jealous of what? getting ahead how? given that we all live under capitalism's domain, this much is clear: those who get "ahead" will get the good jobs with the good funding - those who do not, won't

if there was a different form of economic organization governing the globe the pursuit & "business" of science would be very very different - but this much is obvious, no?
posted by jammy at 4:29 PM on October 5, 2010


"It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail." - Gore Vidal
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:05 PM on October 5, 2010


This has got me thinking. We have a perpetual PhD candidate where I work who is kind of socially maladroit, she has a bit of a tendency to say things in ways that can be misinterpreted and she doesn't seem to be able to read other people's attitudes toward her, and she's actually not too bright (compared to most PhD candidates, that is). And for a long time, there were always little things happening to her stuff, for example, a sheet of UV filter plexiglass she needed for an experiment disappeared, a number of spokes on her bicycle were cut, the gas chromatograph that only she was using was always breaking down.

Her experimental work is finished and she's trying (yet again) to put her thesis into adequate shape, so she hasn't had any troubles that I've heard about for quite a while. It would be pretty difficult to figure out who was doing this stuff, though, because she's irritated so many people (including the staff, who detest her) over the years. It might even be that every individual act was committed by a different person she annoyed, and some of them really were just accidents.

Or it could be that there was someone in one of the labs who was insulted by the idea that she is going to get a PhD (it's only happening because her PI is exceedingly generous and has held her hand through the whole process) and was trying to run out the clock on her (she's already over the theoretical seven-year limit). I don't think she's capable of designing original research, so she's going to end up an overqualified lab tech or at best a teacher at a community college.

But it's entirely possible that there's someone from our labs who is petty and mean enough to sabotage another researcher for purely personal reasons, and I can't think who it could be.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 7:18 PM on October 5, 2010


I've worked for some of those groups and the key overriding thing about all of it is that the people involved really do want to solve the disease more than anything else you can think of.

I'm Sorry, I think you've misunderstood what I wrote. I'm not criticizing the individual motives of individual biomedical researchers in that sentence, I'm criticizing the social system that they operate in. The system is not necessarily what one would expect to exist if the goal was to solely solve problems of disease.

Secrecy, patents/intellectual property, and to a certain extent competitive funding make no sense if the goal is to treat or cure massive, global humanitarian problems like disease, which ultimately boils down to basic science research. Here's an article that offers solutions to the patent/intellecutal property absurdity: Eyes on the Prize: Incentivizing Drug Innovation without Monopolies
posted by peppito at 7:24 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


At least her supervisor supported her enough to investigate. I know many PIs who would simply write it off as the cost of encouraging competitiveness in the lab and tell their student to secure their reagents better.

Of course this brings in the whole issue of system of publish or perish in academia and how shit PIs will let their students crash and burn as long as their own publication records grow. (I know a PI who actively encourage his students to take credit for another student's work (from a collaborator's lab). Needless to say, I don't think they'll have collaborators for long.)
posted by cosmic_shoals at 7:34 PM on October 5, 2010


I'm Sorry, I think you've misunderstood what I wrote.

I did, sorry. Kind of ironically one of the alternative things I could be doing to make money is managing the IP for a big pharma company, encouraging the practises that go against making actual awesome discoveries.

Those of us that stay on the ground have huge amounts of passion (which is why we aren't rich instead) and it can be difficult to be constantly maligned because the overall system doesn't work optimally. I still don't think the fix is as obvious as people make out though, or the current system actually fundamentally flawed (compare medicine now to 50 years ago if you think nothing happens under the current system). The perfect world peppito is hankering for doesn't exist, neither does the evil one I see talked about in anti-pharm/anti-patent propaganda. Like biology itself, and like anything else involving people, research is messy and imperfect and somewhere in the middle.

The fact that this guy is getting press is also notable. Going over the line this far really is beyond what most of us are used to dealing with, and my work is pretty much all collaborative so I know what the bullshit and pettiness is like.
posted by shelleycat at 7:55 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know many PIs who would simply write it off as the cost of encouraging competitiveness in the lab and tell their student to secure their reagents better.

One thing I find interesting is that something like this would be quite difficult to carry off in several of the places I've worked because we share everything. Spiking the media kills everyone's cells, including your own. My current collaborative stuff also makes it more difficult. Ruining my samples isn't so smart when your project also relies on them. It does makes publishing stuff more contentious though, and I often have to rely on everyone co-operating for things to get done. So there are other, more subtle way to screw up your colleagues I guess.

Either way, having your PI or group head stand up for you is so important in these situations. I always tell people going in to a PhD to choose their supervisor wisely because it can be the make or break difference to the whole project. It's not even if they're generally supportive or helpful necessarily, just knowing they have your back when you need it is the key. This student was lucky and I hope her PI's integrity attracts more good students to the lab.
posted by shelleycat at 8:05 PM on October 5, 2010


You work in a molecular biology lab where people *share* reagents? That's crazy talk. Every researcher knows that everyone else contaminates and uses up their solutions. Can you share my Tris buffer? Sure, let me pour you a small aliquot so you don't touch my precious, precious reagents...
posted by maryr at 9:21 AM on October 6, 2010


No, I don't work in a molecular biology lab. For which I am constantly grateful :-P
posted by shelleycat at 7:22 PM on October 6, 2010


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