In On Being a Scientist, the leader of a research team takes the credit for himself. The team’s research wins a prize, but the person who came up with the breakthrough idea receives no glory. “The leader appropriated more than he deserved. It’s a problem where just one scientist receives a prize if it’s a group achievement,” said Professor of Medicine Hans Tiddens during the discussion in the room afterwards.

Doctoral student Oscar Rueda Ochoa could certainly identify with the story. What happened to him was that others appropriated his research idea. “I had a good idea for a study and sought cooperation with other scientists to get it off the ground. Later I saw the publication of my idea without any reference to me.”

Societal influence

Alongside the ownership of ideas, scientific research was also put under the critical spotlight. In the film the main character explains that a study by the Lancet journal showed that 85 percent of biomedical research undertaken is absolute hot air, entirely fabricated simply to be able to publish.

During the discussion Tiddens noted that he’s also aware of this problem in his own institution. “Erasmus MC wants to be in the Top 20 of the best universities, and this creates an enormous pressure to publish, with the emphasis on quantity,” he suggested. “But the emphasis should in fact be on quality and the societal influence of publications.”

The hall gradually emptied following the discussion, but a couple of scientists hung back. Doctoral student Marleen Hamoen registered her satisfaction that scientific integrity had been raised during the gathering.

“It’s good that scientific practice is under critical consideration,” she believed, “because there’s a lot that could still be improved. The emphasis in scientific research is no longer on scientific progress. Negative outcomes from studies are vitally important for science, but are often not published by journals because positive results are more exciting.”

Screening On Being a Scientist was the first event in Integrity Week. There are a number of activities throughout the week, crowned by Boris Barbour’s lecture at Erasmus MC on Wednesday, 6 December. On Being a Scientist can be viewed in its entirety here.