Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Are labs creating mad scientists?

Photo by David Zeiger from Theater Emory's "Frankenstein."

“It seems scientists could use some religion, or at least some soul, or at least a moral compass to orientate themselves through the increasingly blurry lines that sketch out the day-to-day ethics of our labs and clinics,” writes biologist Arri Eisen in Religion Dispatches.

An excerpt from the article:

Army researcher Bruce Ivins commits suicide as the FBI closes in on him as a top suspect in the US anthrax mail deaths; University of Alabama biology professor Amy Bishop guns down her colleagues in a faculty meeting; top climate scientists’ hacked e-mail reveals childish bickering and apparent suppression of research that goes against global warming; Nobel-winning UN scientist Rajendra Pachauri accused of serious financial conflicts of interest; top university psychiatrists under Senate investigation for not disclosing significant cash payments from pharmaceutical companies whose drugs they are also researching.

Good Lord! Seems like hardly a week’s gone by lately without some new revelation about scientists gone mad or bad or both. What’s up?

First, top research scientists work in very intense environments that often ignore, or worse, reward narcissistic behaviors. In my quarter-century in science, I’ve seen many social behaviors (barely on the edge of what would normally be accepted) excused as long as those involved were bringing in a lot of money and prestige and publishing a lot of papers.

Second, and to add spice and challenge to this intense environment, the US Senate passed the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980. For the first time, universities and their researchers could financially benefit from their research and innovations. This is good, the reasoning went, because we not only want to keep our best minds in universities, but we also want scientists to reap the benefits of their own ideas. Of course, when big bucks are at stake humans have a tendency to behave badly and change priorities.

Read the full article.

Can science keep the faith?


  1. Gee - scientists are human and some of them fall into the same behaviors that some other humans fall into. Who could have seen that coming?

  2. I'm with Steve on this...