ScienceBear has a fairly provocative post up over at the cave. I was struck by the last section because it touches on scientific errors and fraud. ScienceBear observed that members of the laboratory were curiously worried about arousing the ire of the Boss over trivialities:
I recently noticed we were out of a particular item in lab and asked if anyone had ordered it, the answer is always no, even though we could have been out for days. This is the same response if something goes wrong with lab equipment....
yes, everyone had noticed but no one wanted to bother Dr Boss for the fear she would be angry. I was at a loss for words. I put in work orders on the computers, placed an order for ink cartridges and alerted Dr Boss to the problems all in the same day.
This same fear of punishment for finding something not going as planned carries over into everything we do in lab. No one wants to say we are out of something or that their experiments aren't going as they should. One student actually continued a failed experiment for two months without alerting Dr Boss to the fact they were having a problem (she was not pleased that he didn't bring this up during a weekly meeting and wasted time and valuable reagents/antibodies).
Up until a few years ago, Korean Air Lines was plagued by a much higher crash rate than other airlines. Analysis of cockpit voice recorder data from a number of Korean plane crashes revealed that the god-like status of captains and the relative subordination of their second officers frequently led to situations where the captain was fucking up, the second officer was clearly aware of the fuckup, but the second officer was either unwilling or unable to communicate to the captain the fact that he was fucking up.
And one wonders. Nay, not wonders. One knows. If there is a scientific trainee who fears to mention to the Boss that the printers aren't working, this trainee sure as hell isn't going to mention "Oh gee, I think that figure you are so amped about from that other postdoc is totally faked". And who knows how far this PI-pleasing attitude might carry one.
Is the desire to keep the boss PI happy greater than any affection for, say, genuine data?
N.b. I know this is fraught with chances to be an ass with stereotypes about certain cultures. Gladwell managed to talk about differences in respect for authority without being too much of a jerk (I think). Let's strive for that standard in the comments please?