'Like Insider Trading'

A blogger discusses grant reviewing ethics.

Full-text access for registered users only. Existing users login here.
New to GenomeWeb? Register here quickly for free access.

With the thousands of

With the thousands of information bytes that we receive daily during readings, viewings, and discourses with others, it is hard to tell when original thoughts truly emerge as opposed to ideas that were forgotten and triggered for remembrance. Creativity in scientific thinking seems to stem from the ability to string diverse ideas together in novel ways that explain observations or reveal previously unappreciated relationships. It is indeed a grey area when building on the ideas of others crosses the line to become outright stealing. Proper acknowledgement of others' work provides some alleviation of this dilemma.

A grant application or scientific paper reviewer happens to be someone with a prepared mind that can easily absorb new ideas and observations, because the work under consideration is usually within their expertise. A good reviewer does not just take information, but also gives useful feedback to the authors. Therefore, there should be an exchange of ideas that transpires with the review process. The major flaw in the system is that peer-review is usually anonymous, which places the reviewer at an advantage if he/she decides to be exploitive and competitive with the authors. While anonymity does allow the reviewer to be frank in his/her criticisms, it also means that their contribution will not be acknowledged in the final published work.

While individual scientists should be acknowledged and sometimes celebrated for significant contributions to our understanding of the workings of the universe, we should appreciate that building this knowledge is really a team effort that is ultimately financed by society at large. One would like to have the satisfaction knowing that his/her work is meaningful and makes a real contribution to scientific advancement, and that this is recognized by others. In the big scheme, however, it is more important that there is a free flow of ideas and information than who thought or discovered something first.