If scientists are hesitant to formally report their colleagues when they suspect them of misconduct, can simply gossiping about their concerns in informal settings – at meetings, conferences, etc – clean up the literature? That’s a question Brandon Vaidyanathan and his colleagues tried to answer in “Gossip as Social Control: Informal Sanctions on Ethical Violations in Scientific Workplaces,” published last month in Social Problems. We spoke with Vaidyanathan, now the director of research at The H.E. Butt Family Foundation and Public Policy Fellow at the University of Notre Dame, about how scientists use gossip to warn others of potential misconduct – and whether it works.
Retraction Watch: What prompted you to discuss the role gossip can play in scientific misconduct?
Brandon Vaidyanathan: We didn’t set out to study gossip initially. It emerged unexpectedly as a theme during our interviews with scientists across national contexts, when we asked them about their encounters with misconduct.