ethics in academia

As I'm continuing to become disillusioned with the current attitudes in academia, I have resolved to do a few small things to improve the situation...

Throughout my very short time in academia thus far, I have come to loathe the majority of it. Don’t get me wrong, I love science. I love making hypotheses, collecting data, testing ideas, hell, I even love data analyses; mostly I love everything about the process of discovering new information and telling people about what I’ve found out. But the whole publish-or-perish, claw-your-way-to-the-top, competitive attitudes of academia really bother me. I believe this attitude frequently hinders good science.

Further, there is the whole issue of the big-name publishers making massive profits on the back of the hard work of scientists. We volunteer our services and our ideas to businesses that make a mint out of regularly telling us that we’re not good enough. More importantly, everyone, not just the scientists, then have to pay for access to this information, which is usually government-funded research and thus should be a public asset. It’s unethical (for all except the shareholders, I suppose). This has been elaborated on in a massive movement to boycott Elsevier. Academia (publishers included) is getting in the way of ethical research practices.

Short of brainwashing funding bodies, governments, businesses and institutions to show a more collegial attitude to science, I have resolved to protest by example. So I will do the following little things in an effort to make science more transparent and ethical:

  • Sign all of my reviews. I hope that this will make me consider the terminology I use so as not to be spiteful or resentful or mean, as I have sometimes seen in reviews of my own manuscripts. It will also mean that the authors can be aware of any conflict of interests (not that I have any that I know of). I’m a bit worried about this one, as it doesn’t stop people whose work I review from being spiteful or resentful in turn if I continue to be honest about the quality of the submitted work. Fingers crossed the ethics of this one wins in the end.
  • Give positive comments in reviews. Receiving page after page of negative comments all the time is very disheartening. I intend to point out study strengths as much as possible in my reviews to mitigate the fact that we're constantly told our work is faulted.
  • Boycott publishing in for-profit journals. I will, however, happily publish in society journals such as Animal Behaviour, as membership to these societies is cheap and comes with free journal access. And I will sign the Cost of Knowledge petition.
  • Attempt to publish more in open access journals. This is rather expensive, however (but not with PeerJ it turns out. Check out their awesome model), and would be greatly facilitated if institutions fronted the costs of open access (it is in their best interests for the work to be open access in the end, to be fair).