At her blog, Science Professor presents a hypothetical scenario in which a PI must decide whether to leverage a sense of funding insecurity in order to encourage a particular lab member "who tends to lack motivation when it comes to writing papers and proposals" to do both, and she asks: "Would you maintain a certain level of insecurity in the hopes it would act as a motivator?" This question, she acknowledges, poses a variety of practical and ethical considerations. Practically speaking, "one option in this situation is to not renew the contract and replace the non-writing postdoc with someone who writes," Science Professor says. But should his or her PI values particular scientific expertise in this lab member, but there "isn't a large pool of candidates with similar skills," it'd be in the interests of both to "continue working together," she says. To that end, Science Professor asks whether her readers, in this particular situation, might consider shielding their trainees to a newly acquired "stable source of funding" such that "withholding this information [might be] justified by the possible benefit" of motivating that lab member to write.
In a comment to this post, DrugMonkey suggests that keeping a non-writer lab member on board is an "opportunity cost," as there "might be someone else out there who brings the whole package." But GradStudentAbroad says that bringing a new person on can present opportunity costs, too. "A new person, no matter how good they are, will normally need some time — let's say six to 12 months — to become fully productive." Plus, GradStudentAbroad adds, there is more than just than this particular lab member's motivations at stake. "Aside from the ethical implications, there is a practical question of whether artificially creating more insecurity will actually achieve the desired result of making the research scientist write, and at what cost to that person's mental health and the morale of the group as a whole," the reader writes.