During the National PhD-day I gave a presentation about responsible research practices. The results of the interactive discussion can be found below.

I asked the audience (n=90) the following question:


We also watched a video (specially developed for this meeting by Bruno van Wayenburg) and I asked the audience to what extent the practice proposed in this video is ‘scientific fraud’? They rated the question on a 10-point scale (1=not at all – 10=yes, completely). The results are very mixed:


The video is about researchers degrees of freedom: some buttons can be pressed while others are considered scientific misconduct. As a PhD-student you have to learn which buttons belong to which category. This is a very challenging task, especially because the rules are often unwritten and change over time.

Then, I asked the audience “To what extent is publication pressure present in your research field?” Apparently, most of the PhD-candidates in the room experience publication pressure:

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And when asked about their personal pressure to publish, many indicated to feel substantially under pressure:

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It surprised me a bit that the correlations between these three questions were not higher:


Then, we proceeded with a vignette about a ghost author. Consider the following situation:

You are working with your professor on an article for your dissertation, the two of you wrote equal parts of the paper. However, when you check the final paper before submission you see that a full professor has been added as a third author to the paper. He/she did not provide a substantial contribution to the paper.

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O, come on people (I said jokingly!)…this is how science works. The conclusions in your article are groundbreaking. You only need a famous (ghost) author on the paper and it will be accepted by the highest journal in your field. Still not convinced? Well, your supervisor just tells you to add this person and you are kindly asked not to question this…

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Within the category “NO” of the first question 43.8% changed their opinion (40% of the total n) because of what I told them. After these results appeared on the screen, I literally cried out and said:

No no no no… what the **** did you change your mind!! 

And the audience replied (some examples):

  • “Its just the way research works. If you don’t like the rules, don’t play the game.”
  • “its not right but its high impact and i need to finish”
  • “Publish or perish pressure; especially if it is someone well-known in your field.”
  • “Obey my Promoter”
  • “This would help to get my research out to a better journal, increasing future chances in academia”
  • “My work will get published in a higher journal reaching more people, having more impact on the science community.”
  • “Because I need it to graduate”
  • “Because of how the system works”
  • “To publish higher for my career”
  • “This would help to get my research out to a better journal, increasing future chances in academia”
  • “Pressure by my supervisor.”

So, what to do in this situation? At our faculty it is a new rule that on each paper written by a PhD-candidate there is an acknowledgement included in which the roles of each co-author is explained and each co-author should have at least two roles. If your supervisor tells you to add a real ghost author and you don’t want to, you could always try to assign this person two roles…hopefully this could work..

Any other suggestions what you could do? Please leave a reply!