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Competition — and Sabotage

DrDoyenne at Women in Wetlands describes "the dark side of scientific competition" and attempts to deconstruct "how competitive atmospheres can contribute to unethical behavior by scientists." She is quick to note that competition helps science more than it hurts, so long as "resources and other rewards are fairly distributed after an evaluation of the qualifications and merits of all eligible parties," she says. Though, anyone familiar with the current funding climate knows that doesn't appear to be the case. DrDoyenne says that "when competition becomes intense, it can become counter-productive and even lead to pathological behavior," which can become "problematic within research organizations when PIs are pitted against each other. …We've all heard tales of sabotage." DrDoyenne says she once worked in a lab in which the PI "sincerely thought that the competitive model was the one that would yield the greatest scientific output," though, in fostering rivalry among groups, he failed to consider the potential collaborative opportunities lost, the time spent protecting work from sabotage, among other consequences of a "pathological workplace." DrDoyenne says that competition, alone, is unlikely to cause unethical behavior, though "it can obviously exacerbate" it. She suggests that those who "fund, manage, and regulate scientific research" would do well to fully consider "the negative impact of competition on a field that thrives on openness, sharing of ideas, and collegiality."

HT: Mike the Mad Biologist

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