Today’s discussion about peer review and the way science works in general got me thinking. Science can be ruthless and full of bad morals that most people (outside of politics and business) would not even think of considering.
When he was talking about getting grants, I was immediately reminded of something that happened over the summer. My lab group and another lab group in the Department of Chemistry applied for the same grant. It was a university-based grant available to any student in the department. Both proposals were, for what I believe to be, perfectly good areas to pursue. Our two labs are by no means in competition when it comes to our research—we’re physical chemistry and they are synthesis chemistry. Both labs are in two entirely different fields of work. Keep in mind that this is a grant that students apply for, not professors. The professor for the lab that got the grant introduced himself to one of the grant committee members before they met to discuss the grant. Needless to say, there were some upset people. The sad thing is our two fields of work complement each other as we both work RNA. This event burnt any bridges before they were even built. There could have been a lot of progress made with our two groups working together.
I would like to know if that professor thought he was being immoral or not. This seems out of place because his students love and respect him. Finally, this brings me to the actual point of my post. I fully endorse requiring an ethics course for science students. Future scientists should be aware of ethics and how it pertains to science. From a philosophy standpoint, the only way to address the problem is to have discussion. Letting people know there is a problem is sometimes enough to start change. Of course there will still be immoral people but with any luck they will slowly be dissolved into the “ether” of science.
On a side-point: the idea of peer-review reminds me of a quote by Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government. But all others have been tried.”