Thursday, September 16, 2004

Rather academic 

Suppose your name is Dan.

Suppose further that you�re among the more than 90% of those elite members of academe who would love to verify any working hypothesis that would discredit an accepted conservative theory with which you disagree.

Perhaps you�ve had an especially zealous research assistant working for you for the past dozen years or so. Oh, let�s call her Mary. And let�s say that she�s been working for five years to find data that might discredit - not the tenets of an entrenched theory - but rather the personal reputation of the lead proponent of an opposing, established theory. Maybe Mary has had recent success on another research project earlier this year. Why, she seems almost intoxicated by the national attention she has won.

Now you receive a fax of new data from the only Kinko�s in Abilene, Texas. Let�s say that a man, perhaps named Bill, actually faxed it to you.

The documents and data are dated more than 30 years ago. It seems too good to be true. You think, �EUREKA!� Your working hypothesis may not be confirmed. However, the personal data you receive cast doubt on the credibility and integrity of the leader of the theory that is diametrically opposed to yours. You rapidly write up your findings and decide to self-publish it, rather than sending it to a journal staffed with peer reviewers.

Within hours a brigade of pajama referees determines that the faxed documents that you received have obviously been fabricated. You suspect that your research assistant, Mary (who had previously acquired a notorious reputation for having distorted facts in Seattle), may actually be the one who forged the documents that were faxed to you by Bill.

You�re an established, tenured professor, supposedly committed to academic integrity. But questions keep you awake at night. When might the end justify the means? Is it right to turn in a loyal research assistant whose beliefs parallel your own?

What would you do, Dan? What should you do, Dan?