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EthicsCaseStudyForm edit

Title I Rub Your Back…..
Long Title I Rub Your Back….. trading reagents for authorship
Contributor/Contact John Banja, PhD (jbanja@emory.edu)
Contributor Details John Banja, PhD
Director, Section on Ethics in Research
Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute
Emory University
Atlanta, GA 30322
CTSA Emory
Case Study Provided Dr. Cooper, a tenure track assistant professor, noted that one of the senior researchers in his area of research, Dr. Wittgenstein, had recently published an important paper in the field and had generated some valuable reagents in the process. Cooper contacted Wittgenstein and asked if he could obtain these reagents, telling Wittgenstein how he planned to use them. Wittgenstein agreed to send the reagents to Cooper and even mentioned that he was making additional reagents that might be use for Copper's future experiments.
After a year of successful experiments using the reagents, Cooper's group wrote a paper and submitted it to a prestigious journal that rapidly accepted and published it. Shortly thereafter, Cooper received a phone call from Wittgenstein who asked why his name had not appeared on the paper. Cooper replied that providing reagents does not merit an authorship credit. Wittgenstein countered that it is nevertheless common courtesy to do so and that his lab works incredibly hard to generate these reagents. Wittgenstein then informed Cooper that he would not share any reagents with him in the future, nor would he supply him with additional quantities of the original reagents that Cooper used.
Cooper dismissed this all as a bad experience. Nevertheless, he called several colleagues who confirmed that while the official rules say that you do not include people as authors who simply provide reagents, everyone does it.
Over the next several years, Wittgenstein continued to send reagents to other labs who would include him as an author on their papers. These labs flourished and received continued funding. Cooper, however, suffered considerably. His having to generate reagents on his own took over two years, during which time he lost a competitive edge with other labs. This, in turn, jeopardized Cooper's bid for tenure. On the other hand, Cooper did consider contacting those journals where Dr. Wittgenstein's name was appearing and filing numerous complaints, but he dismissed this idea as too uncollegial.
While Dr. Cooper was clearly correct in following rules of authorship credit, it is just as clear that others weren't. Their's was an ethically dubious reciprocity arrangement where Wittgenstein's supplying them a reagent would result in his receiving an authorship credit. Had there been better policing of such arrangements, this sort of thing would presumably happen less often. But as it presently stood, the consequences from acting ethically seemed career jeopardizing for the Dr. Coopers of the world, and career-aggrandizing for the likes of Dr. Wittgenstein. Sadly, as the majority of the scientific community was inclined to follow the less ethical course, Dr. Cooper found himself suffering for doing the right thing.
As an aside but to top it all off, Dr. Wittgenstein insisted on authorship credit for himself but not for his trainees, who did all the work in generating the reagents.
Data Acquisition, Management, Sharing and Ownership Topics No Data acquisition_management_sharing and ownership Topics
Mentor and Trainee Responsibilities Topics No mentor and trainee responsibilities topics
Publication Practices and Responsible Authorship Topics
The significance of authorship,
Authorship assignment,
Inappropriate authorship practices,
Dealing with controversies that arise in authorship,
Scientific responsibilities of authors,
Poor publication practices
Peer Review Topics No peer review topics
Collaborative Science Topics
Working well with others,
Dealing with challenges in collaborative relationships
Research Misconduct Topics No research misconduct topics
Conflicts of Interest, Law and Policy Topics No conflicts of interest_law_and policy topics
Human Subjects No human subjects


RCR Keyword Research Paper, Intellectual Work, Collaboration, Manuscript
Other RCR Keywords Authorship Credit; Common Courtesy; Courtesy Authorship; Experiments; Filing Complaints; Funding; Professor; Reagents; Senior Researchers; Tenure
Type of Case

Source for Topic Areas Du Bois, J., & Dueker, J. (2009). Teaching and Assessing the Responsible Conduct of Research: A Delphi Consensus Panel Report. Journal of Research Administration, 40(1), 49-70.


Topic revision: r2 - 28 Oct 2011 - 13:00:33 - MaryBanach
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