When the creativity goes down

Science is a fertile ground for creativity. Scientists around the world gain notoriety and become reference as a consequence of the results obtained throughout their careers. However, is not easy to achieve extraordinary results. Get extraordinary results requires a mix of creativity and luck, without mention resources. In cases where luck is a factor to be considered we stumble in a result as unexpected as revealing and which may determine a different approach to our original research. Creativity, on the other hand, do not depends on chance and in moments when it fails the consequences can be dramatic: from a laboratory unproductive to the facade career.

Times ago, a group of Brazilian scientists got involved in a very embarrassing episode. After some results hardly criticized in Science Fraud blog the journals in which the papers were published decided ask retraction and even withdraw one article. If you think that a blog could not cause so many noise, probably you have not been presented to Paul Spencer Brookes, ahead of the Science Fraud. Paul is an important researcher of the University of Rochester Medical Center (USA) in the mitochondria field. The Paul’s blog revealed indications of fraud on the results of previously published articles, but eventually goes down after pressure from lawyers of the reported groups. The case of Brazilian researchers is being investigated in an attempt to clarify whether they are errors, as the authors admitted, or legitimate fraud.

It’s not news that science suffers from this type of conduct. In 2011 the psychologist Marc Hauser miss his post at Harvard after suffering investigations that showed his misconduct in, at least, four projects that received government funding. In 2004, the South Korean scientist Woo Suk Hwang claimed to have created stem cells from embryo clones. After repeated attempts to reproduce Hwang’s results, without success, investigations were made and led the scientist, two years later, to admit his falsifications. In 2009, Hwang was sentenced to two years in prison for violating bioethics laws of the country and astray the equivalent of US$ 700,000 of public funds.

Cases of apparently bright career include the scientist Eric J. Smart, a former researcher at the University of Kentucky (USA). Investigations led to conclusion that the researcher had falsified dozens of images in 10 previously published articles. Only one of the magazines recently published a formal retraction. Another case is that of Terry S. Elton from Ohio State University (USA), who was accused of falsifying and/or fabricating data in six different articles and reports. The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) is responsible for determining these cases and suggested the portrayal of Terry in reported cases of fraud. Not always fake is a poor creativity tool how showed the scientist Dongqing Li, who was suspended for four months (without payment) as a result of inquiry suggesting plagiarism in one of his articles.

There is a malicious hand in many scientists as Vipul Bhrigu, a former postdoctoral student at the University of Michigan (USA). Bhrigu sabotaged experiments of a lab partner adding alcohol to the culture media used for it. A graduate student distrustful installed a hidden camera in the lab and caught sabotage. Bhrigu was sentenced to pay around $ 8,800 in materials and reagents, perform 40 hours of community service and to undergo psychiatric evaluation.

Even with so many reports of misconduct on the part of scientists, would be unwise to assume that the blame rests solely over the scientist. There are reports of extremely competitive laboratories where the principal investigator puts his postdoctoral students in dispute. Something like to give the same project to deliver and proclaim “who finish first publishes.” Apparently a guiltless dispute, but these types of publication likely will be submitted to a journal with highest impact factor, which awakens a voracious interest in the venture.

Answer the reasons that lead researchers to practice these kind of conduct is not an easy task. Perhaps this is a reflection of policy “publish or perish”. Who finances want to see results published and, on that logic, the higher number of better publications. The arms race between research groups to see who publishes first also eventually affects the quality of articles. The deadlines often do not help as in the case of master’s programs that requires a good publication at the end of two years. Initiated in the scientific practice knows that the early stages of any research dispense much of our time in standardization procedures (i.e., trying to get it right in the experiments).

Maybe the output for this despair scenario comes from practice of slow science and scientists more patient. The Slow Science Academy (Germany) in 2010 published a manifesto in favor of slow science. I conclude this text with a fragment of the manifesto:

Science needs time to think. Science needs time to read, and time to fail. Science does not always know what it might be at right now. Science develops unsteadily, with jerky moves and unpredictable leaps forward – at the same time, however, it creeps about on a very slow time scale, for which there must be room and to which justice must be done. Slow science was pretty much the only science conceivable for hundreds of years; today, we argue, it deserves revival and needs protection. Society should give scientists the time they need, but more importantly, scientists must take their time […].


Fernando T. Moraes. Revista “despublica” artigo de cientistas acusados de fraude. Folha de São Paulo, 05/01/2013.
Reinaldo J. Lopes. Autor de denúncia de fraude revela sua identidade e faz mea culpa. Folha de São Paulo, 05/01/2013.
Fernando T. Moraes. USP e CNPq vão apurar suspeita de fraude em artigos. Folha de São Paulo, 08/01/2013.
Ivanoransky. Former Harvard psychology prof Marc Hauser committed misconduct in four NIH grants: ORI. Retraction Watch. September, 2012.
David Cyranoski. Woo Suk Hwang convicted, but not of fraud. Nature, 461, 1181 (2009) | doi:10.1038/4611181a.
Ivanoransky. First retraction for Eric Smart, who faked dozens of images, appears in PNAS. Retraction Watch. January, 2013.
John E. Dahlberg. Case summary: Elton, Terry S. Office of Research Integrity. December, 2012.
Brendan Maher. Research integrity: sabotage! Nature 467, 516-518 (2010) | doi:10.1038/467516a.

Creative Commons License
This work by Alison Felipe Alencar Chaves is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.



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