The day to day operation of the lab was conducted under a severe information embargo. The lab had Piero Anversa at the head with group leaders Annarosa Leri, Jan Kajstura and Marcello Rota immediately supervising experimentation. Below that was a group of around 25 instructors, research fellows, graduate students and technicians. Information flowed one way, which was up, and conversation between working groups was generally discouraged and often forbidden.
Raw data left one’s hands, went to the immediate superior (one of the three named above) and the next time it was seen would be in a manuscript or grant. What happened to that data in the intervening period is unclear.
A side effect of this information embargo was the limitation of the average worker to determine what was really going on in a research project. It would also effectively limit the ability of an average worker to make allegations regarding specific data/experiments, a requirement for a formal investigation.
The general game plan of the lab was to use two methods to control the workforce: Reward those who would play along and create a general environment of fear for everyone else. The incentive was upward mobility within the lab should you stick to message. As ridiculous as it sounds to the average academic scientist, I was personally promised money and fame should I continue to perform the type of work they desired there. There was also the draw of financial security/job stability that comes with working in a very well-funded lab.
On the other hand, I am not overstating when I say that there was a pervasive feeling of fear in the laboratory. Although individually-tailored stated and unstated threats were present for lab members, the plight of many of us who were international fellows was especially harrowing. Many were technically and educationally underqualified compared to what might be considered average research fellows in the United States. Many also originated in Italy where Dr. Anversa continues to wield considerable influence over biomedical research.
Wow. I was sure lucky. When I was in grad school, I was in a research group of about the same size, with primarily 3 people running 3 labs: Chuck Kimmel, Monte Westerfield, and Judith Eisen. They were independent and co-equal. Their post-docs and grad students and undergrads pretty much had free run of all of the labs, to the point where it was often difficult to tell who was officially associated with which lab. We had weekly lab meetings in which we’d freely share data with each other; if someone had a good idea or a set of relevant skills, we’d have collaborations. When it was time to publish a paper, the people who had done the work would get together to write it, and authorship reflected the research team, not some hierarchy…so I emerged from grad school with papers published with both Monte and Judith, but not a one with my titular lab head’s name on it, because he had these scruples about not putting his name on work to which he had not personally and directly contributed.
I thought that was how everyone did science, as an open and egalitarian process. I guess I was wrong.
If you want more examples of science being done badly, Harvard has released the full report on the Marc Hauser scientific misconduct case. It’s clear that he faked data, and demanded that his students confirm his hypotheses. Hauser’s defense: “people in his laboratory conspired against him, due to academic rivalry and disgruntlement”, a claim that did not hold up in the investigation.
I seriously cannot imagine Chuck Kimmel, or any of my academic mentors, ever tolerating any of the shenanigans Hauser was pulling. Just the idea that you’d gather data and then pass it up a hierarchy for analysis, and be told by your advisor what it meant…bizarre.
Man, was I lucky. I hope all of you who are in grad school are following these scandals, and seeing modeled how science should not operate — and are standing up for scientific integrity in your own labs. Be involved in every step of an experiment, collaborate and share ideas, question authority. It’s the only way to do good science.