I apologise to mods beforehand, but this is going to get dark. Search his name in the news today if you don’t already know why, I don’t have the mood to repeat the details - my title is putting it very mildly on a family friendly forum. I know we refrain from personal attacks on iNat, but the story is now front page news in Australia.
The first thing I did was check if he was on iNat, and thankfully, relievedly, NO. The second thing I did was look for his publication history, which is extensive, and also thankfully not my field. There’s a lot of herpetologists who would be horrified that they ever co-authored with him, or cited him, etc. I have only seen him in passing - I am only an entomologist in roughly the same part of the world.
Once I got over the disgust, I began thinking of how we all assume that all of us zoologists adore animals, and that we wouldn’t be doing what we do without that passion, and yet how someone that seemed like one of us can be so vile. If I was a herpetologist, could I even stomach citing his former publications? Should we even? Is it even fair academic practice to refuse to refer to a fellow researchers’ work on the basis of their character? We hear of awards being withdrawn when sportspeople or celebrities are found guilty of far less grotesque crimes.
Maybe this is inappropriate, or just too emotive for this forum. But I’m just sickened and saddened by all of this.
I am scared to look him up. (Oh lord, I just did…)
I often hear a phrase saying: Can we love the art and hate the artist? And I think that is something that many people struggle with.
I can’t really imagine going into a field involving living things and then being cruel to them, or other living things. The herpetologists on Anole Annals all love lizards to the bottoms of their hearts, and although they poke fun at ornithologists, they wouldn’t dream of hurting another animal. People I met on iNaturalist are the same way.
I personally don’t know if I would cite anything of his either. It isn’t a matter of “I don’t have the same political views/religion/etc as this scientist, so I wont cite them” (Which is unprofessional) This person is simply unethical.
‘Simply unethical’ would be the understatement of the century right there. I’m not even a herpetologist, but I can’t imagine what his former coworkers, let alone his wife, must be going through with this revelation.
I’m no stranger to cruelty, and it’s important to discuss the repercussions thereof, for catharsis and to prepare ourselves for the future. Let’s maintain cool heads and professionalism here. Also, please remember that children as young as 13 may be on the forum.
some people are… terrible. there isn’t making any sense of it. the psychologists and neurologists among us may one day find a way to reform such people, but until then, all we can do is be vigilant and make sure perpetrators are noticed, stopped and kept away from those they would harm.
don’t let yourself sink into dread, or worse, apathy. most people are good and are trying to do good.
Curiosity kills the cat again–I assumed he’d done something bad enough, but things were at an entirely different level. For those who haven’t looked it up: don’t. It will bring you only sorrow.
What a relief that at last he was caught, and I hope he faces justice both legal and karmic. As undeniably horrible as this is, we should try to take comfort in the fact that news like this is shocking because it IS rare. Most people are good people and many more work to help than harm.
Let’s please keep this focused on the questions that @simono asked.
@simono do you think it’s worth changing the topic title to reflect the broader questions you brought up?
It makes me think of the many unethical psychological experiments done in the past, eg the Standford Prison Experiment or the Milgram Experiment. I believe they are still referred to in literature (and I definitely learned about them in Psych 101 in college), and they spurred changes to accepted ethics standards when it came to human experimentation in Psychology.
I’m not a scientist, but does citing a paper imply that you respect or condone its authors? I would think the two could be kept separate, and citation is quite different than veneration.
I agree that citing the work of an author that you disapprove of for their other actions is okay even if you wince when doing so. I have a background in herpetology but don’t know of this person being discussed. But I’d definitely feel misgivings while still citing their research.
I think it depends mainly on if the research itself was conducted unethically. The most extreme examples involve Josef Mengele and Shiro Ishii’s experiments that were conducted during the horrors of WWII - Ishii escaped war crime charges because he cut a deal with the US government from the data from his (and I hesitate to call it this, because it was truly crimes against humanity) ‘research.’
Again, obviously an extreme example but it did become relevant rather recently - there was apparently a call to release the unit 731 data to medical scientists during the Covid pandemic (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8141376/), though as far as I can tell neither the US or Japanese government did.
There are no guarantees. I’d say that almost any research can be considered suspect whether the researcher has committed horrible acts or not. Which is why science relies so much on replication of findings.
They are. But (at least from what I saw in school) they were used as precautionary “what not to do” discussions with heavy emphasis placed on how/why they didn’t really fulfil their stated goals due to poor design. That’s early 2000s, for a time reference.
As far as if it’s still appropriate to cite his research…I honestly don’t know how he conducted it. If it was with groups of researchers, with oversight, collaborators, etc. I might still have some degree of confidence in the research itself. If it was conducted only by him? I’d really question how much I could trust it. He’s evidently got a talent for dissembling and deceiving. I’d honestly probably treat it as a citation of last resort, but I don’t know that I’d absolutely refuse to cite him entirely either.
FWIW I never met or talked to him, but have some friendly acquaintances that have and they’re both kind of grappling with this themselves at the moment. There’s a lot of “did I miss red flags” going on with them beating themselves up.
I glanced at a couple of his crocodilian papers online, both written with multiple co-authors. A reason to consider them citation-worthy. His research collaborators shouldn’t take a hit for what he’s done. Don’t know what else he’s published and I’m not curious enough to look any further.
I chose the title because also want to bring the news itself to people’s attention, and to give some of my thoughts on it. Horrible as it is, it is sobering to understand that ‘one of us’, as in a fellow naturalist and researcher, is guilty of these acts. He is also the second ‘TV crocodile guy’ from Australia to run afoul of the law. Matt Wright’s case is still before the courts, though he is a wrangler, not a researcher, and his scandal, while serious, is far less grotesque and traumatizing to read. His shows have since been pulled from Netflix, but he’s still a tourism icon with full-sized cardboard cutouts of him displayed at the usual tourist joints.
If I might add some of my personal biases as a naturalist working in remote Australia who isn’t of either man’s skin colour, nature TV viewers really seem to love their tall, suntanned, beefy, charismatic, white rough-and-tumble blokes with a twinkle in their eye, a knife on their belts, who are good at hiding heinous wrongdoing. But diversity in nature programming is a topic for another day. I think that both men may have caused a serious blow to the reputation of herpetologists in Australia, but maybe I’m overestimating the attention span of the average casual TV viewer.
@astra_the_dragon Understood. I have omitted details which are now widely published in print and online news media though these are accessible to children, and would want to keep the thread that way.
@SQFP@jnstuart Thank you, I respect that perspective. There is a good chance that I, or more likely my colleagues, will probably have to consider citing Adam Britton in the future, even if it makes us feel like we’ve bathed in vomit. In addition, the scope of his co-authorship also includes non-Australian crocodilian taxa and researchers, and at least one prehistoric species. @williampaulwhite17 I would definitely severely scrutinize his previous work, and if he ever steps out of prison, will do everything in my power to avoid his future work.
I think this represents the ideal, not necessarily reality. Some parts of natural resource research gets a lot of replication (e.g., game animals in the U.S.). But for other, less-funded groups, it’s pretty hard to get a grant to repeat a study, even with some new elements (e.g., different population/geographic area). I think in practice we give some amount of benefit-of-the-doubt to researchers as long as they have been published in a journal who’s peer-review process we trust. My point was, I don’t feel I can extend that benefit-of-the-doubt to someone who has proven the ability to behave so unethically in other parts of their life. If there are studies replicating his findings, why not cite those instead?
I don’t want to go too off topic, but I did want to respond. This is an interesting discussion that can be moved to it’s own thread if it’s to continue as a discussion specifically about replication.
As noted in the RetractionWatch page I shared above (which deals mostly with after-the-fact retraction, a slightly different issue…): not citing his works would have direct, unfair consequences on co-authors if any - less citations, lower h-index, less funding, loss of career opportunities, etc.
Although some level of doubt about his and anyone’s scientific outcome is in order, it could prove impractical and slippery to preemptively disparage his most casual results and observation data – those that have not yet been supported / replicated / published by later and (hopefully) nicer persons. As for his past controversial claims or high-impact groundbreaking papers, if any, they probably deserve a new round of thorough scrutiny…
History abounds with researchers who have exhibited behaviors deemed unacceptable, both then, and later in hindsight. That does not change the value of their data.
Any researcher who published is free to cite, and not cite, any resources. That said, is the work then incomplete? There comes the risk to use anothers’ actions as an excuse to ignore their data and observations, particularly when it may be in conflict with the publication at hand.
There are plenty of published authors for whom I don’t like personally. Yet, I reference their work because it is significant and generally a building block upon which my work stands.