Cutting down on e-mail

Apple\'s Mail icon, the ultimate visual symbol of e-mail
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How big of a problem is e-mail overload? An increasingly big one, judging by the number of articles I’ve read recently dealing with sandbagging the e-mail flood. A good is example is an article in the New York Times by IBM employee Luis Suarez, who became fed up with spending hours catching up with e-mail every day. Suarez decided to find alternatives to e-mail, such as instant messaging and posting answers to coworkers’ questions to an internal blog at IBM — and of course he’s picking up the telephone more now than ever before. He’s found that his new approach has increased the usefulness of his work to other IBM employees who visit his blog and browse his shared files.

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Science fraud is common and often ignored, report says

According to a report published in Nature, scientific fraud in academia is “surprisingly common” but is not often reported to university officials.

The survey of mainly biomedical students showed that about 9 percent had seen some kind of academic misconduct in the past three years; 37 percent of those breaches went unreported.

The authors surveyed 2,212 researchers and found 201 instances of possible academic misconduct over those three years. Among those, almost 60 percent were fabrication or falsification incidents, and 36 percent dealt with plagiarism.

The most guilty segments of academia? About a quarter of the incidents pointed the finger at postdoctoral fellows, though professors and senior scientists were right on their heels at about 22 percent.

Of course, the tricky question of whether a researcher should inform on their colleagues comes next. The easy answer is yes, but that does not take into account career-ending consequences that an accusation of misconduct can bring, as well as the damage done to friendships.

The reports authors, however, see things in a simpler light: “Fundamentally all explanations seem to share a common denominator — the failure to foster a culture of integrity” (981-82). They recommend clarifying for scientists how to report misconduct, protection for whistleblowers, more training for scientific mentors, and positive role modeling as ways to cut down on misconduct.

Image tampering increasingly common in scientific journals

The Federal Office of Research Integrity says that 44 percent of its cases between 2005 and 2006 involved image fraud. That’s up from 6 percent a decade ago.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription probably required), out of the 300 or so articles accepted each year by the Journal of Clinical Investigation, 10 to 20 may have been tampered with.

Some young researchers may not even think of image editing as being wrong, the CHE reports, considering the ease of image manipulation. However, experts contend that even changing a few pixels for clarity’s sake can alter the meaning of that image.