Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ethics and Supervision

Janet D. Stemwedel has an excellent post at her blog Adventures in Ethics and Science
It is in regard to issues in the supervision of postgraduate students in science. However the issues discussed aren't science specific and are interesting. I want to pick up on just one point of her post, many of these issues aren't the fault of one specific individual, they are systemic.

On the INEIRA blog I discussed how consideration of structures was in some sense prior to ethics.
Several of the scenarios Janet discusses suggests that this is the case and is something that needs to be addressed urgently. Here are some examples:

In case you're not familiar with the Streleski case, (and Printculture has an interesting discussion of it)here's the run-down: He had been in the math doctoral program at Stanford for 19 years -- that's right nineteen. And, apparently, his advisor Karel deLeeuw had recently made it clear to Mr. Streleski that he would not be getting a Ph.D. in math from Stanford (or, in some accounts, from any other U.S. university). While Mr. Streleski descibed his response -- bludgeoning his advisor to death -- as "logically and morally correct," it seems to me that something must have snapped.

The problem goes beyond the horrors of graduate school. Individual members of large communities (like university departments, or scientific fields) sometimes feel powerless against the ill will, or the apathy, of other members of their community. It bugs the heck out of you that people are being listed as authors on papers describing research with which those people had no involvement beyond being physically present in the same laboratory; but, everyone is doing it. (This came up at a baby shower I attended this past weekend.) Even if you know a practice is wrong, and even if you personally refrain from that practice, your community may be rife with it. If you raise your voice against it, there's a good chance you'll be ignored, or worse, branded as a trouble-maker.

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