Posted below is an email that I rediscovered in my mailbox a few days ago. I had no memory of it whatsoever, perhaps because I never received a reply from the intended recipient. Whatever be the reasons, looking back at it today feels like discovering a diamond in the rough.

The letter is an outcome of my personal struggle. The conundrums of an aspiring researcher - where do my moral and ethical standards of science? where do they belong in the existing framework of academia? what’s there for me?

I have come a long way in understanding these questions; in being able to answer them for myself. However, the journey is not over yet. As Albert Einstein once remarked, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”


reproduced verbatim (name redacted), 13/11/15

Dear Prof. XXX:

I'm sorry for coming up to you with frequent questions. However, it is something that is bugging me for some time, and I am hopeful that your ideas will be of great help in improving my understanding. I will refrain from providing a context at the moment as it may act as a primer.

I have grown through years in close unison with areas of computer science, where there is a tradition of publishing ideas in conferences and doing things in open aka open-source way. This ideology has influenced me a lot, and I have striven to appropriately license my work in a manner that allows maximum reuse and persistence even if the work has just started. However, I realize that this tradition is far from true in domains like biology. There is an invisible force pushing for secrecy, patents, rights protection, publish-or-perish. People want to preserve ideas first at any cost, irrespective of whether they'll ever work on that idea or not. I guess most of these arise to internal competition on funding and other resources. But anyway.

I wish to know your ideas on ethics and ways of doing science, especially in the context of topics above. Do you think it open research, open science is an unaccepted methodology in the current state of scientific development? What advantages does working behind the screens bring compared to the mutually sharing knowledge and working for advancement in general? Or is it that everything boils down to an act of garnering fame and funding in academia since these two are highly likely to affect the success rate (and research rate) for anyone? What do you think of pre-publication?

Sorry if I jumbled up a lot of questions in the last paragraph. Please take your time to respond :)

Sincerely,
Vivek