Professionalism/Sabotage In Academia

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Academic sabotage is defined as "purposeful vandalism directed against any academic endeavor or equipment"[1]. It refers to any actions that undermine or harm another person's academic progress or success[2]. They are also considered to be a lesser-known form of academic dishonesty and is known to be more prevalent among higher education, especially in highly competitive environments such as pre-law or pre-med programs. In contrast to cheating, with its "victimless crime" mentality, academic sabotage does have intended victims.

An article published by Psychology Today identifies the six components of sabotage in academia to be abuse of power, underperforming, noncompliance, professional dishonesty, negativity, and intentional anti-collegial behavior[3]. Causes of academic sabotage were linked to self-interest, personality traits, related personal issues, extraneous stress, managerial practices, and organization culture.

Sabotage can happen between anyone in an academic setting, such as student-student, professor-student, professor-professor, and can even be caused by parents or significant others. However, there is little literature or studies surrounding this phenomenon, aside from personal testimonies or rumors that acknowledge its existence. It is also likely that universities cover up any incidents of academic sabotage to protect their brands and self-interest.

Academic sabotage has also stirred up many concerns toward the ethical and professional values of the perpetrators, especially if they are studying to work in a career field that demands honesty and integrity.

"When all of this started happening, I started to wonder how, if we as future lawyers were supposed to uphold integrity and justice, then how could all of these people be so damn dishonest in their academic life." (Patrick, attorney, age 31)[4]

"...These environments are expected to educate physicians capable of building trust with their patients. If this is the kind of paradigm conspiring from the current medical school system, what does this say about the values of aspiring physicians? Do students truly want to help people and improve the field of medicine, or do some students' motives stop short at the occupation's prestige and high median salary?"[5]

Consequences[edit | edit source]

Academic sabotage can be considered a serious violation of academic integrity, and punishments can vary depending on the severity of the offense as well as the respective policies of the institution. It can result in an University judicial action or criminal suits charged by the institution. Possible punishment can range from failing the assignment or course, to suspension or expulsion from the academic institution. In addition, the perpetrators may face long-term consequences such as damage to their academic reputation and difficulty getting accepted to future academic programs and institutions.

However, the perpetrators often go unpunished because they are rarely caught. In addition, academic sabotage is not legally considered academic misconduct. That definition is reserved for falsifying data or plagiarism. In the case of someone's experiment being ruined, it can be considered destruction of property.

Prevention and Response[edit | edit source]

Some academic institutions have taken steps to discourage academic sabotage. For example, Rutgers university lists several sabotage-related actions, such as falsifying evidence or data and destroying another students work, as offenses in their conduct policy that could result in expulsion or suspension.[6]

Studies have been performed in an effort to identify preventative measures against academic sabotage. The results of Psychology Today study involving 23 academics attempted to pinpoint motives of sabotage as a means to find prevention measures. The study recommends that employee training, developing values together as small research groups, and providing means to process the stresses of academia are ways to reduce the risk of someone turning to sabotage.[3]

Cases of Sabotage in Academia[edit | edit source]

Vipul Bhrigu and Heather Ames[edit | edit source]

Heather Ames, an MD PhD student, experienced academic sabotage in her lab at the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. Ames first noticed signs of sabotage in her cancer cell research in December, 2009, when the results of a routine test on her cells seemed to be out of order. She thought it might have been her own mistake, until the exact same error happened again, five days later. Ames' suspicions grew as she continued to find strange results in her research; in January, she detected an extra protein in her cell samples on two occasions, and in February, she discovered that someone had added ethanol to her cell growth medium, killing all of her samples. After the latter incident, Ames went to her supervisor, Theo Ross, with the strong evidence of sabotage that she had collected, and together they contacted the police.[7]

The first person that the police investigated was Ames herself, under the suspicion that she was staging sabotage in an attempt to justify an obstacle she encountered in her research. After Ames endured two interrogations and a lie detector test, the police began to look elsewhere. They installed security cameras in the lab, and soon after recorded Vipul Bhrigu, a postdoc in Ames’ lab, rummaging around Ames’ samples with a bottle of ethanol. Bhrigu was brought in for questioning and confessed to Sabotaging Ames’ work. He confessed that his motives came from the pressures of moving to a much larger university: "I just got jealous of others moving ahead and I wanted to slow them down."[7]

Bhrigu had originally pleaded guilty of malicious destruction of property, and was sentenced with an $8,800 fine, six months probation, 40 hours of community service, and a psychiatric evaluation. The prosecution pressed for a larger fine to be determined at a later restitution hearing, but Bhrigu and his wife left the country before the hearing took place, as Bhrigu's visa was contingent on having a job. In India, there is little to prevent Bhrigu from returning to a job in science. The situation had a lasting impact on Ames’ and Ross’ trust in the scientific community and in themselves.[7]

This example of sabotage set a very interesting precedent for cases of research misconduct and academic sabotage. In 2011, The U.S. Office of Research Integrity found Bhrigu guilty of research misconduct. Since the federal definition of research misconduct only includes the “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism” related to research, Bhrigu’s actions do not strictly constitute research misconduct. Bhrigu was found guilty on the grounds that his actions caused. Ames to falsely report results in her lab notebook. Although this precedent represents progress towards more permanent actions against saboteurs in academia, some argue that it does not provide consistent punishment for sabotage-related actions, such as in cases where the results were not written down.[8]

Magdelina Koziol[9][edit | edit source]

Magdalena Koziol was a postdoc student at Yale University, researching how the genome switches on after fertilization when her research began mysteriously failing in July 2011 only a month after starting her postdoc in the developmental biology lab of Antonio Giraldez. The following month, Koziol started producing transgenic zebrafish. All of the batches she produced died and kept dying after several batches were produced. A lab technician assured her there was nothing wrong with her approach. So she decided to produce a batch of fish and split them in two, on one she put her initials, MK, like she had been doing and the other she left unmarked. Within the following days, only the fish with her initials died while the other fish lived. This experiment confirmed for Koziol that someone was interfering with her experiment, so repeating this a second time she convinced Giraldez to set up secret cameras in the lab. It was quickly found that another postdoc, Polloneal Ocbina, had been poisoning her fish. After being caught he was immediately forced to leave Yale; Giraldez told his group not to discuss the incident, threatening Koziol with legal consequences and prosecution should she mention this incident. Her relationship with Giraldez began to quickly deteriorate. He refused to provide her with a letter about the sabotage, which would have helped explain her lack of nine months of data to the Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO), her grant funder to whom she must make monthly updates, and future employers. He then began to criticize her work and character, didn’t help her make up for the lost time, looked noticeably irritated around her, didn’t list her as a contributor to a Nature article she was participant to, and threatened to "fire and destroy" her. Koziol became depressed, suffered from sleeplessness, and gained weight; when she and Giraldez talked for 3 hours in August 2012, Koziol “cried throughout the meeting,”. She continued there for the duration of her two year fellowship despite it being essentially pointless as she had lost nine months of research, and eventually filed an internal grievance, after which she was promptly told that her fellowship would not be renewed. She filed a lawsuit against Giraldez and Yale, accusing them of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract asking for an unspecified amount of compensation for the lost time and funding, and left two months early, returning back to Cambridge University to work under her doctoral supervisor and Nobel laureate John Gurdon. He is a staunch supporter of Koziol, helping her to secure a grant and even using his own personal finances to help keep her research going. He is optimistic about her chances against Yale. “They wrote her a letter promising her circumstances in which she could conduct her research,” he says, “And they quite clearly did not provide even remotely adequate circumstances.”

Future Work[edit | edit source]

One suggestion for improvements in the chapter can be looking into long-term impacts of academic sabotage for both the victims and culprits. Does the future professional lives of students who learn in sabotage-free environments differ from students who learn in environments prone to sabotages? Another suggestion is to look into how academic sabotage intersects with inclusion and equity. Are certain groups of students more likely to be victims or culprits of academic sabotage and if so, then why? Also, research into current or past activism efforts to change federal or individual school policies surrounding academic sabotage. The role played by student disciplinary defense attorneys is also something of particular interest.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Virginia Tech (2021). "CONSTITUTION OF THE GRADUATE HONOR SYSTEM" (PDF).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. Northern Illinois University (2023). "Sabotage". Academic Integrity Tutorials.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. a b Hogan, Michael (August 2, 2018). "Sabotage in Academia". Psychology Today.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. Aurich, David Matthew (2012). "Academic Integrity, Academic Integrity, Academic Sabotage, and Moral Disengagement in Higher Education" (PDF).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. Eck, Matthew. "The Eck's Factor: Hypercompetitive pre-health academic culture is not conducive to fostering compassionate physicians". Daily Trojan.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. "Catalog Navigator : Violations of Academic Integrity and Recommended Sanctions - Levels of Violations and Sanctions". Retrieved 2023-05-04.
  7. a b c Maher, Brendan (2010-09-01). "Research integrity: Sabotage!". Nature. 467 (7315): 516–518. doi:10.1038/467516a. ISSN 1476-4687.
  8. Rasmussen, Lisa M. (2014-06-20). "The case of Vipul Bhrigu and the federal definition of research misconduct". Science and Engineering Ethics. 20 (2): 411–421. doi:10.1007/s11948-013-9459-y. ISSN 1471-5546. PMID 24002821.
  9. Enserink, Martin (2014-03-07). "Sabotaged Scientist Sues Yale and Her Lab Chief". Science. 343 (6175): 1065–1066. doi:10.1126/science.343.6175.1065. ISSN 0036-8075.