“Science is a business shaped by information, facts, novelties.“ “The common aim is to push the boundaries of what is possible.“ “Higher, faster, further.“ “Good, better, the best.“ “Science is a tough business.“ “Publish or perish.“
Statements reflecting a system peppered with expectations and very limited space for individuality and creativity – features in fact required for above mentioned approaches. However, these are sentences a PhD student and Post-doc hears a lot these days when joining seminars, job talks, and conferences. Sentences that motivate as much as they achieve the opposite.
It all seems to come down to the following question: What is really important in and for “Science“?
This was one of the very interesting questions asked at the theme night of the Bonn Forum for Biomedicine (BFB) about “Good Scientific Practice”. This theme night was an emphatic reminder in regard to the many things that can go horribly wrong in science: mistakes, dishonesty, misconduct, fraud. Offenses which are unfortunately observed regularly by chief editors of scientific journals as well as professors at research institutes. Actions that make one shiver and may arise from the pressure to produce data, to publish, to make progress happen and underline the necessity to be aware of guidelines and sources of error.
Within recent years many cases of scientific misconduct and error did raise more and more attention, leading to their publication in well-respected newspapers like The Guardian. Here, for example, an article was published in 2012 describing a “Tenfold increase in scientific research papers retracted for fraud” since 1975, referencing a study published by the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Fang et al. in 2012 (doi:10.1073/pnas.1212247109).
After examination of 2047 papers on the PubMed database that had been retracted, the authors concluded that more than two-thirds (67.4%) of the biomedical and life sciences papers were retracted from the scientific record because of scientific misconduct by scientists, composed of fraud or suspected fraud (43.3%), duplicated publications (14.2%), and plagiarism (9.8%) rather than error (21.3%).
We may be PhD students and young scientists who struggle to find our way through the labyrinth of scientific networks, are overwhelmed, under pressure to perform well and to produce data while making progress as fast as possible but in the end we are “the people“ and should be aware that we can have a significant influence on science. We can shape the business if we want to. This awareness was – beside many others – a motivating take home message of the BFB theme night „Good Scientific Practice“.
Out of 40 young scientists joining this theme night everyone agreed that the most important features of a scientist should be:
- Being and feeling responsible at all times
- Trying to be as unbiased as possible
- Double checking every observation and all the data gathered
- Test the reproducibility of our data
- Following our curiosity
- Aiming to show others something that is true.
For further reading and detailed guidelines e.g. the webpage of the DFG, the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, and the Leibniz-Gemeinschaft offer general guidelines for „Good Scientific Practice” containing the following topics:
- General principles of scientific work, e.g.
- Lege artis work
- Documentation of results
- Consequent challenging of observations
- Strict honesty
- Cooperation and responsibilities in workgroups
- Supervision of scientific offspring
- Securing and saving of primary data
- Scientific publications
These guidelines are very helpful tools to avoid mistakes or inaccuracies right from the start. 🙂
Overall, this theme night was about good scientific practice but it gave way more than good advice. The people attending it gave hope – hope for a future shaped by honest, curious, motivated and conscientious researchers aiming to push the boundaries of what we know and what is possible.
Many thanks to the Bonn Forum for Biomedicine for organizing an amazing theme night with Dr. Schröder (brain4hire), Prof. Dr. Kaupp (center of advanced european studies and research, caesar) and Dr. Pulverer (Chief Editor EMBO journal).
P.S.: Save the following date! On 8th of may a IITB workshop about „Good Scientific Practice“ will take place- highly recommended! 🙂