Debate hears about unethical practices in science

Ljubljana, 4 March - Sexual harassment, gender inequality and manipulation of results were listed as some of the unethical practices in science in an online debate hosted by the Commission for Equal Opportunities in Science on Thursday.

The commission's head, astronomy professor Andreja Gomboc, said the commission was in a way trying to fill the void as Slovenia still does not have an ethics and integrity council in science.

The commission is trying to advance equal opportunities of women, junior and foreign researchers in Slovenia and other groups that are hurt most by unethical practices.

Even in the 21st century democratic Slovenia, sexual harassment is still present in the academic sphere and genders are disproportionally represented in particular where major decisions on research policies are taken, said Gomboc.

Apart from basic working conditions, including a safe and respectful working environment, Gomboc said women researchers should have their work valued and evaluated equally with their male peers and should get equal opportunities in promotion decision-making.

Commission member Sašo Dolenc noted some issues raised by respondents in a survey such as result manipulation as one type of violation that no one would talk about loud.

Participants in the survey also reported that many were concerned for their livelihoods and they are even prepared to rig results to get points and projects.

A concrete example was reported where the person violating got away with it, while those who had drawn attention to the violation were labelled as troublemakers and being malevolent.

One further opinion expressed in the survey was that Slovenian science was too small and if you exposed yourself and stood up for what you thought was right, you could lose your career.

Dolenc said those were just a small part of the many diverse responses in the survey, but which he said indicated problems in Slovenian science merited serious discussion.

As the problem of sexual harassment has been exposed in the media it has become clear the scientific and academic system lacks the mechanisms to respond to suspected abuse.

Other speakers too noted that the problems were systemic.