the investments of parents and students in universities), and public confidence in the integrity of research.
INDUSTRIAL SPONSORSHIP OF ACADEMIC RESEARCH
Sandra was excited about being accepted as a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Frederick, a leading scholar in the field, and she embarked on her assigned research project eagerly. But after a few months she began to have misgivings. Though part of Dr. Frederick's work was supported by federal grants, the project on which she was working was totally supported by a grant from a single company. She had known this before coming to the lab and had not thought it would be a problem. But she had not known that Dr. Frederick also had a major consulting agreement with the company. She also heard from other graduate students that when it came time to publish her work, any paper would be subject to review by the company to determine if any of her work was patentable.
Disclosure of conflicts of interest subjects these concerns to the same social mechanisms that are so effective elsewhere in society. In some cases it may only be necessary for a researcher to inform a journal editor of a potential conflict of interest, leaving it for the editor to decide what action is necessary. In other cases careful monitoring of research activities can allow important research with a potential conflict of interest to go forward while protecting the integrity of the institution and of science. In any of these cases the intent is to involve outside monitors or otherwise create checks to reduce the possibility that bias will enter into science.
PUBLICATION AND OPENNESS
Science is not an individual experience. It is shared knowledge based on a common understanding of some aspect of the physical or social world. For that reason, the social conventions of science play an important role in establishing the reliability of scientific knowledge. If these conventions are disrupted, the quality of science can suffer.
Many of the social conventions that have proven so effective in science arose during the birth of modern science in the latter half of the seventeenth century. At that time, many scientists sought to keep their work secret so that others could not claim it as their own. Prominent figures of the time, including Isaac Newton, were loathe to convey news of their discoveries for fear that someone else would claim priority—a fear that was frequently realized.
The solution to the problem of making new discoveries public while assuring their author's credit was worked out by Henry Oldenburg, the secretary of the
Royal Society of London. He won over scientists by guaranteeing rapid publication in the society's Philosophical Transactions as well as' the official support of the society if the author's priority was brought into question. Oldenburg also pioneered the practice of sending submitted manuscripts to experts who could judge their quality. Out of these innovations rose both the modern scientific journal and the practice of peer review.
We thus begin to see that the institutionalized practice of citations and references in the sphere of learning is not a trivial matter. While many a general reader—that is, the lay reader located outside the domain of science and scholarship—may regard the lowly footnote or the remote endnote or the bibliographic parenthesis as a dispensable nuisance, it can be argued that these are in truth central to the incentive system and an underlying sense of distributive justice that do much to energize the advancement of knowledge.
—ROBERT K. MERTON, "The Matthew Effect in Science, II: Cumulative Advantage and the Symbolism of Intellectual Property," Isis, 79:621, 1988.
The continued importance of publication in learned journals accounts for the convention that the first to publish a view or finding, not the first to discover it, tends to get most of the credit for the discovery. Once results are published, they can be freely used by other researchers to extend knowledge. But until the results become common knowledge, people who use them are obliged to recognize the discoverer through citations. In this way scientists are rewarded through peer recognition for making results public.
Before publication, different considerations apply. If someone else exploits unpublished material that is seen in a privileged grant application or manuscript, that person is essentially stealing intellectual property. In industry the commercial rights to scientific work belong more to the employer than the employee, but similar provisions apply: research results are privileged until they are published or otherwise publicly disseminated.
Many scientists are generous in discussing their preliminary theories or results with colleagues, and some even provide copies of raw data to others prior to public disclosure to facilitate related work. But scientists are not expected to make their data and thinking available to others at all times. During the initial stages of research, a scientist deserves a period of privacy in which data are not subject to disclosure. This privacy allows individuals to advance their work to the point at which they have confidence both in its accuracy and its meaning.
After publication, scientists expect that data and other research materials will be shared with qualified colleagues upon request. Indeed, a number of federal agencies, journals, and professional societies have established policies requiring the sharing of research materials. Sometimes these materials are too voluminous, unwieldy, or costly to share freely and quickly. But in those fields in which sharing is possible, a scientist who is unwilling to share research materials with qualified colleagues runs the risk of not being trusted or respected. In a profession where so much depends on interpersonal interactions, the professional isolation that can follow a loss of trust can damage a scientist's work.
Publication in a peer-reviewed journal remains the standard means of disseminating scientific results, but other methods of communication are subtly altering how scientists divulge and receive information. Posters, abstracts, lectures at professional gatherings, and proceedings volumes are being used more often to present preliminary results before full review. Preprints and computer networks are increasing the ease and speed of scientific communications. These new methods of communication are in many cases just elaborations of the informal exchanges that pervade science. To the extent that they speed and improve communication and revision,
they will strengthen science. But if publication practices, either new or traditional, bypass quality control mechanisms, they risk weakening conventions that have served science well.
THE SHARING OF RESEARCH MATERIALS
Ed, a fourth-year graduate student, was still several months away from finishing an ongoing research project when a new postdoc arrived from a laboratory doing similar work. After the two were introduced, Ed automatically asked about the work going on in the other lab and was surprised to hear that researchers there had successfully developed a reagent that he was still struggling to perfect. Knowing that both labs had policies requiring the sharing of research materials, Ed wrote a letter to the head of the other lab asking if the laboratory could share some of the reagent with him. He didn't expect there to be a problem, because his project was not in competition with the work of the other lab, but a couple of weeks later he got a letter from the lab director saying that the reagent could not be shared because it was still "poorly developed and characterized."
The new postdoc, upon hearing the story, said, "That's ridiculous. They just don't want to give you a break."
An example is the scientist who releases important and controversial results directly to the public before submitting them to the scrutiny of peers. If the researcher has made a mistake or the findings are misinterpreted by the media or the public, the scientific community and the public may react adversely. When such news is to be released to the press, it should be done when peer review is complete—normally at the time of publication in a scientific journal.
Sometimes researchers and the institutions sponsoring research have different interests in making results public. For example, a scientist doing research sponsored by industry may want to publish results quickly, while the industrial sponsor may want to keep results private—at least temporarily—to establish intellectual property rights prior to disclosure. Research institutions and government agencies have started to adopt explicit policies to reduce conflicts over such issues of ownership and access.
In research that has the potential of being financially profitable, openness can be maintained by the granting of patents. Patents enable an individual or institution to profit from a scientific discovery in return for making the results public. Scientists who may be doing patentable work have special obligations to the sponsors of that work. For example, they may need to have their laboratory notebooks validated and dated by others. They may also have to disclose potentially valuable discoveries promptly to the patent official of the organization sponsoring the research.
In some situations, such as proprietary research sponsored by industry or
militarily sensitive research, openness in disseminating research results may not be possible. Scientists working under such conditions may need to find other ways of exposing their work to professional scrutiny. Unclassified summaries of classified work can compensate for the lack of open scrutiny that allows the validation of results elsewhere in science. Properly structured visiting committees can examine proprietary or classified research while maintaining confidentiality.
THE ALLOCATION OF CREDIT
The principle of fairness and the role of personal recognition within the reward system of science account for the emphasis given to the proper allocation of credit. In the standard scientific paper, credit is explicitly acknowledged in three places: in the list of authors, in the acknowledgments of contributions from others, and in the list of references or citations. Conflicts over proper attribution can arise in any of these places.
Citations serve many purposes in a scientific paper. They acknowledge the work of other scientists, direct the reader toward additional sources of information, acknowledge conflicts with other results, and provide support for the views expressed in the paper. More broadly, citations place a paper within its scientific context, relating it to the present state of scientific knowledge.
Failure to cite the work of others can give rise to more than just hard feelings. Citations are part of the reward system of science. They are connected to funding decisions and to the future careers of researchers. More generally, the misallocation of credit undermines the incentive system for publication.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
Ben, a third-year graduate student, had been working on a research project that involved an important new experimental technique. For a national meeting in his discipline, Ben wrote an abstract and gave a brief presentation that mentioned the new technique. After his presentation, he was surprised and pleased when Dr. Freeman, a leading researcher from another university, engaged him in an extended conversation. Dr. Freeman asked Ben extensively about the new technique, and Ben described it fully. Ben's own faculty advisor often encouraged his students not to keep secrets from other researchers, and Ben was flattered that Dr. Freeman would be so interested in his work.
Six months later Ben was leafing through a journal when he noticed an article by Dr. Freeman. The article described an experiment that clearly depended on the technique that Ben had developed. He didn't mind; in fact, he was again somewhat flattered that his technique had so strongly influenced Dr. Freeman's work. But when he turned to the citations, expecting to see a reference to his abstract or presentation, his name was nowhere to be found.