I won’t be Bullied Into Bad Science!

6 minute read

This is the content of my talk at OpenConCam, the OpenCon satellite meeting in Cambridge, presented on the 16 November 2017. The slides are available here.

Together on a journey

I am going to tell you about a long, still on-going journey. I’ll talk about my journey, but it applies to other, I know that. And when you are on a long journey, you meet many people, and some help and support on your journey. Before telling more about this journey, I would like to thank some people that are close to my heart when it comes to open science and open research. These are the people who helped organising this meeting, and its predecessors; these are people who share the values I will be talking about; and there’s in particular the ever inspiring Corina Logan, who is the person who initiated the #BulliedIntoBadScience campaign.

Yes, it’s personal!

I do care a lot about my work as a researcher, very much indeed. I am a scientist doing research in the area of computational biology, more specifically in spatial proteomics. At the end of my degree (that was in biology), I was unable to imagine anything else I could do other than research. I never intended to do the kind of research I am doing now, but I wanted to understand the world around me by doing research. What has fascinated me since that time is the method of scientific investigation, a method to observe, define hypotheses, test them, and validate or invalidate them. That’s how we can understand the world that surrounds us.

What are some of the features that make this scientific investigation such a universally powerful paradigm? The science that I am passionate about is characterised by:

  • Trust - I need to trust you to stand on your shoulders.
  • Reproducibility - it’s not only your shoulders I will stand on.
  • Openness - I need to know what I am going to stand on. And I want everybody to be able to know.

I didn’t realise this as a young PhD student, when initiating my journey. Nobody actually ever taught me that these concepts are among the very foundations that make science what it is, i.e. that we can stand on the shoulders of the giants that preceded us, and that, maybe, others will be able to stand on my shoulders, one day. This is the kind of science that I am passionate about, that I feel I can continue doing until the very end.

So what is this talk about?

It is about the science that we are passionate about, it’s about the science that we can trust.

But that is not always the science that is practised.

This is a quote shared with us by one of the ECR signatories of the #BulliedIntoBadScience campaign.

I have been constantly harassed by superiors to modify data in order to provide better agreement with known experimental values in order to make the paper look better for publishing in prestigious journals.

We all have constraints in our work, in our lives. We don’t live and work in an ivory tower. Things can be hard at time. Things are certainly harder for many than there are for me. We have to live with these constraints, and we have to do our research with these in mind.

But there are some compromises that we won’t make. We want to pursue our research following our values, following the principles that prompted us and guided us along the way.

The campaign

The Bullied Into Bad Science campaign is an initiative by early career researchers (ECRs) for early career researchers who aim for a fairer, more open and ethical research and publication environment.

Because science and academia are not necessarily aligned. Because a good researcher and a successful researcher are not the same thing. With this campaign, we want to lead individuals and institutions in adopting open practices to improve research rigour. We want a good researcher and a successful academic to realign.

Some background

The #BulliedIntoBadScience campaign didn’t come out of the blue, but is the result of efforts that didn’t lead to satisfactory outcomes. Efforts that often lead to disappointment and frustrations.

We have already written about the background behind the campaign, such as for example in this PLoS ECR post. Here, I want to provide a short summary to give you an idea of why this campaign exists.


It is difficult to say whether the campaign has been successful so far. Success is relative anyway. But here are a couple of points that we could consider indicators of success, or lack thereof.

  • Corina just won a Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant for #BulliedIntoBadScience! WIN

  • Numbers: There are at this moment 140 ECRs that have signed the campaign and 73 non-ECRs (senior academics, people outside academia) that officially support it - unsure what they really mean.

  • Feedback: we only got postive and supportive feedback so far - WIN

  • In Cambridge, there hasn’t been any change as a result of the campaign - FAIL. (But that doesn’t matter, as long as others benefit. It never was meant to be a Cambridge thing anyway) …

  • … as for Cambridge signing the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA): “No way on God’s earth” - FAIL

Continuing the fight

  • Approach prominent academics directly, because we need to show that those in charge also care, so that ECRs don’t feel intimidated to raise their voice.

  • We have submitted evidence to the UK Parliament Science and Technology Committee inquiry on Research Integrity in the name of the campaign.

  • An update to our web page is immindent, including translations (we are looking for more translators!), and we want to write regular blog posts.

  • We want to discuss the signature of DORA at the Regent House at the University of Cambridge?

Everyday struggle

  • And what about my day job? Why do ECRs need to fight for better, open and more trustworthy research?

  • What’s the impact of being an open activist on my academic career? Good, IMHO! (see here for more details)

  • There is so much work, and so little time. There are too many fights to pick - pick the battles that matter most to you.

  • There are multiple ways to fight any battle, and often several are needed in parallel: official procedure and community efforts.

It’s not only personal

I started this presentation by sharing my experience, and highlighting how the current unethical research environment affected me. But it’s not about me, of course. It would be too easy for those, who don’t have ethical research high on their agenda, to dismiss everything in a blink of an eye.

There is of course a community of ECR - PhD students, postdocs, tenure-tracked researchers, … - on whose shoulders I stand at this very moment. These are those who do the research, the all too often silent working force that drive research every single day. These are the researchers who have signed or support this campaign. And there are many more that haven’t yet.

Final word

If there’s one thing that is important to remember, it’s that

No researcher is too junior to fix science!

(find the reference here)

But while no researcher is too young, some certainly are more vulnerable than others. It is thus even more important that the more privileged ones (and that certainly counts me: white, male, from a prestigious institution) make themselves heard so that, together

We won’t be #BulliedIntoBadScience!

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