Is it relevant to Mermaid's Tale to refer to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Eduction on how much professional and pervasive cheating goes on among students? Posted on Facebook by a co-blogger of ours. It's pretty disgusting, in our supposedly leading--Christian even!--society. Universities know it goes on, but why do they/we tolerate it? Could it be because to police the system would jeopardize our flow of tuition money? That is perhaps cynical, but not as far-fetched as it may sound.
This cheater's honor role of topics includes, among many other things, fradulent papers for students of ethics--amazingly!--but he claims nothing in science. Maybe we scientists are so technical that a hack writer can't fake it for us. We need lab notes, DNA clones, and so on. Maybe we can't cheat......or maybe just not in the same way. Or maybe it takes a scientist to do sham science well.
The people who hired this guy were students, supposedly getting an education in their chosen fields. But presumably they'll graduate one day, thanks to their hired gun. What do they, or we, do when they (we) become professionals?
Is there a fine line between them and us? In science, have we not trained students to exaggerate, stretch, rationalize, omit citation to relevant literature or precedence, construct artifactual 'significance' and over-estimate study 'power'? Do we not train students in 'grantsmanship', massaging the truth in whatever way it takes to get a grant, because "you have to, to get funded"? Do we accept the habit of running to the news media with exaggerated claims, and pious statements that our dramatic discoveries will of course require further funding? Or dividing what should be one, careful, measured paper into countless fragmented paperettes, to make sure out CVs look spectacular?
Shadow scientists, too?
These may be comments about society, but they may also be relevant to science. At what point is dishonor what it is--dishonor--rather than just how things are? How much of this, how much fad and momentum, and bureaucrats' portfolio protection, etc. goes on? Could it be detrimental to science, by pushing lots of clever people to game the system rather than doing what would be more careful science? Or wasting funds on what we can buy expensive gear or design huge studies to do, when real questions go unanswered or inadequately addressed.
Or would a more honorable system not distract attention in wasteful, inefficient directions, pushing people instead to think hard, take their time, and try to develop better answers to nature's questions?
Each of us has to answer these questions for him/herself. For many, perhaps things are fine. The System as it now is, is bountiful for those who are good at it. For others, it's a source of worry, or even real sorrow. In any case, for those who need to game the system, we know a nice ghost writer to recommend.
We think that striving for honor is worth the effort, even if it seems to be in vain much of the time.