This spring, I have to refresh my ethics training, a ritual that is annoying mostly because the university makes it so extremely difficult for faculty and postdocs not involved in the biomedical sciences to find relevant ethics training opportunities. I am really not that interested in spending 2 days learning about research with human subjects, as my research involves no human subjects (other than grad students..).
And now all our graduate and undergraduate students who receive a salary or stipend from NSF must be trained in ethics.
Ethics training is important, but it is boring: don't plagiarize, don't fabricate data, don't falsify data. And the case studies are bizarre.
So let's forget about whether the postdoc should hide the data outliers that may or may not be due to a power fluctuation during extremely expensive analyses at a national lab even though the grad student involved in the research thinks that they should at least inform their PI, and consider some more interesting situations. For example, following on yesterday's citation theme:
Has your awareness of the importance of citation data affected your decisions about publishing?
That is, would you have made a different decision about anything related to publications (authorship, type/number/format of publications etc.) if your citation metrics were not being constantly tabulated for all the world to see?
When answering the first-order question, consider only whether you have ever considered the impact of a publication decision on your citation indices. Such considerations are not a priori unethical; it is possible that such considerations will result in your making a completely ethical and smart decision that helps your career. An example of that might be to send a manuscript to a journal that is indexed instead of to an edited volume being published as a not-indexed book. You do not change anything about the authorship or content of the paper; just the publication venue.
But now consider whether you have ever made a citation-fueled publication decision that might not have been entirely ethical but that could possibly be justified because "That's how the game is played." (others are doing it; if you don't play the game, you lose; etc.).
I don't think I've made any unethical decisions about research publications, but I definitely had citations in mind a couple of years ago when I decided to revise a much-cited technical document that was originally authored by someone else (now long retired) and that was in great need of an update. In that case, though, I wasn't thinking so much of my own citation index, but was instead intrigued by the idea of transferring citations from Journal 1 to Journal 2, in part because I am involved in the editing of Journal 2 and therefore have an interest in promoting the success of Journal 2. I hasten to add that I am paid nothing for my editorial work for Journal 2, so financial considerations were not involved. There were in fact valid scientific reasons for publishing the update in Journal 2, in addition to my personal affection for Journal 2. In the end, though, I published the update in Journal 1, but I admit that my original intentions were rather craven and driven in part by thoughts of citations.
That's the worst example I can think of for myself, but perhaps that is because I am a tenured mid-career professor. If I were on the tenure-track today, I am sure it would be difficult not to consider citation index issues when making publication decisions, although if it makes any of my early-career readers feel any better, I happen to know that at least some promotion & tenure committees at research universities are specifically instructed not to consider the h-index or other citation statistics when reviewing files for tenure and promotion.
to be continued..
9 months ago