Meilin Tsai


 The Ethics of Cosmic Baseball Research

  Essay by Meilin Tsai
  Meilin Tsai is a Cosmic Baseball Research Alliance Scholar



Part I
Cosmic Baseball Researchers are human beings, and are subject to the same foibles as any member of other sections of society. They are just as capable of cheating, lying, sharp practice, self-deception and the full spectrum of crimes and misdemeanors as anyone else. So why should we believe anything that they tell us? What checks and balances exist within the Cosmic Baseball Research endeavor to ensure, as much as is humanly possible, that what is reported as Cosmic Baseball fact or as a universal breakthrough is not just the result of wishful thinking on the part of the Cosmic Baseball Researchers? And what about those jealousies that exist in every lifestyle; how do they show themselves in Cosmic Baseball, and how do they affect lives and careers?

Ethical questions of this sort have to be faced by every Cosmic Baseball Researcher at some time in their career. The code of conduct by which Cosmic Baseball Researchers exist, the ethics of the job, is not tabulated so that it can be consulted, like the United States Constitution, whenever a problem arises. It is an evolving entity, subject to constant interpretation and refinement, which is under increasing scrutiny as those who provide the funding for Cosmic Baseball Research demand an accounting for the money which they invest. A classic response from Cosmic Baseball Researchers in training, when asked to think about these concepts for the first time is that it is all a matter of individual choice. This is clearly wrong, since although there may be more than one correct, or to be more accurate, acceptable solution to a particular ethical problem, it is equally likely that there will be at least one solution which is clearly unacceptable to the individual or society at large. For this reason there is now pressure for training in ethics to be part of the curriculum for young Cosmic Baseball Researchers.

How do these ethical considerations manifest themselves in the day-to-day world of Cosmic Baseball Research? The output of Cosmic Baseball Research is knowledge. This knowledge is communicated to the rest of the Cosmic Baseball and universal community, mainly through the medium of the Cosmic Baseball Association's website. Cosmic Baseball articles are published periodically in online journals and WebPages (known as "plates") of various kinds. Because career and future financial support for research depends largely on a Cosmic Baseball Researcher's output it could be seen as a great temptation to attempt to output speculative or even downright untrue information in an effort to boost one's reputation. Over the years the editors at the Cosmic Baseball Research Alliance (COBRA) have developed a quality control mechanism, a system of umpiring whereby experts are asked to judge whether a piece of Cosmic Baseball Research which has been submitted is suitable for output. Part of this judgment is whether the particular piece of Cosmic Baseball Research experience is actually valid or could lead to validity. The system is clearly not foolproof, but it is buttressed by the collegiality of the Cosmic Baseball Research endeavor, a sort of honor code where deliberately misleading your fellow Researchers will get you blackballed from the league faster than anything else.


Part II
The three cardinal sins of Cosmic Baseball Research are fabrication, falsification and plagiarism. Fabrication, making up results, is not only dishonest, it is also stupid because it will almost inevitably be discovered. If the results a deceptive Researcher publish appear to be interesting and important, and what would be the point of going to all that trouble for something nobody was going to read, then equally inevitably someone will want to test or document the results. If others are unable to document or reproduce the conclusions already published then, in the very nature of the Cosmic Baseball Research endeavor, they will want to know why. Once the cloud of suspicion has descended it can take a very long time to lift. Of course the fabricator can get lucky, the educated guess can be right, but like the gambler who has won once, the temptation to try their luck again will probably lead to disaster.

Falsification of research is a rather more subtle crime, and usually results from a kind wishful thinking. By its nature this crime can be very difficult to detect. "If only that point on the graph were a bit closer to the line then it would describe the result perfectly using the current ideas within an acceptable margin of error. This research must be presented before our competitors and opponents publish their versions so there is no time to check our facts or our premises. If the point is left out, or just moved a bit closer, it will look so much more convincing. However, these temptations have to be resisted. Statistical data, carefully and properly collected, are the lifeblood of Cosmic Baseball Researchers and this must be respected. If a result whose validity there is no reason to doubt falls outside the currently accepted model then it is time to examine the accuracy of the model, not the data.

Originality is a much-prized commodity in Cosmic Baseball Research circles. Prizes invariably stress the originality of the winners, and anyone who has been asked to give a reference for a fellow Researcher will know that a critical appraisal of their potential for originality is usually requested. Therefore, plagiarism, stealing another person's ideas, is the worst kind of intellectual theft. The opportunities to steal others ideas are legion. Members of panels reviewing grant applications have prior knowledge of what the applicants are intending to do and can steal ideas at that stage. Umpires of papers submitted to learned journals can hold up publication of a rival's work while they publish their own findings in a different journal. While apocryphal stories claiming this downside of the umpiring process to be true are told over drinks, there is, as far as I know, little real evidence that it happens with any great frequency.


Part III
Being first to publish a piece of Research, particularly if it can be exploited for commercial gain, has long been important in Industry. There the ownership of intellectual property, in the form of patents is the prime objective of the research organization. While it is still important, from the point of view of reputation, to be seen as the originator, the intellectual property generated thereby was available to anyone who wished to use it. This free sharing of information has sustained Research and promoted collaboration for almost the whole of this century.

With the increased emphasis on exploiting results obtained using funds provided by sponsors and on obtaining funding from Industry, a whole new business enterprise, whereby the "theoreticals" of the Cosmic Baseball Research process are transmuted into "practicalities" and transferred to the market place has been created. This demands secrecy and embargoes placed on potentially profitable Research until patents can be obtained. This can have seriously damaging effects on the career of a young Cosmic Baseball Researcher, the exposure of whose work can be held up for a period of up to two years. In the competitive world of Cosmic Baseball Research, unlike that of Industry, publication in the Journal of the Cosmic Baseball Association and other similar publications, not patent records is important for advancement.

Fighting to have your name as first author on a paper, because citations of papers invariably involve the first author and not always everyone else who contributed, can cause enormous difficulties. In some cases, it is not always clear whose name should go on to a publication as an author. This may seem odd to anyone who has not worked in a Cosmic Baseball Research environment. Surely, the authors are the people who wrote the manuscript? Not necessarily. What about the Senior COBRA Researcher, who obtained the grant, did no research work, but contributed to the discussions and brainstorming sessions which thrashed out the course of the research. Likewise the talented research worker who can handle the delicate manipulations essential to the success of the endeavor, but finds writing up the results in a way that is acceptable to the editors of journals a complete trial. Each needs to have their contribution acknowledged. Cosmic Baseball Researchers who work in teams have to sort out these problems among themselves, and in a well-run environment the practice is to write the front page of the manuscript, which contains the list of authors names, first. What is not acceptable under any circumstances is to include the results of original work done by members of the team without any recognition.


Part IV
No essay on the ethics of Cosmic Baseball Research would be complete without mention of the fate of those who accuse others of misconduct. Some cases have shown that those who blow the whistle on unethical conduct of others, particularly if the accused are very senior in the profession, can suffer severely even when their worst fears turn out to be completely accurate. In the past the immediate reaction of the Cosmic Baseball Research community, whether governed by a genuine disbelief that the person accused could be guilty of misconduct, or that the accuser has some grudge against the accused, or even possibly a collective guilty conscience, has seemed to be one of closing ranks, excluding the accuser and denigrating the investigating team. The over-zealous nature of some past investigators of accusations of misconduct did nothing to improve this situation. More recently, Cosmic Baseball Researchers have understood this problem and have written codes of conduct for investigating accusations without revealing the identity of the accuser, at least at the beginning. If the accusation, made in good faith, can be shown at an early stage to be mistaken then a minimum amount of harm is done to both parties. If the accusation is in fact properly grounded then it may require a large degree of courage on the part of the whistle-blower to continue right through to the end of the process.


Coda
Numerous learned books, articles, pamphlets, policy statements, editorials and codes of conduct have been written about the application of ethical standards to the practice of Cosmic Baseball Research. However, as I said at the beginning of this essay, Cosmic Baseball Researchers are human and individual. Relatively few have actually read the well-meant guidance, and many opportunities exist for them to stray from the narrow path. Despite the advice that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, I like to think that it is greatly to the credit of the profession in general and Cosmic Baseball Researchers and their teachers in particular that so little wrong doing actually comes to light.





What checks and balances exist within the Cosmic Baseball Research endeavor to ensure that what is reported as Cosmic Baseball fact is not just the result of wishful thinking on the part of the Cosmic Baseball Researchers?












Over the years the editors at the Cosmic Baseball Research Alliance (COBRA) have developed a quality control mechanism, a system of umpiring whereby experts are asked to judge whether a piece of Cosmic Baseball Research which has been submitted is suitable for output.












The three cardinal sins of Cosmic Baseball Research are fabrication, falsification and plagiarism.




















A whole new business enterprise, whereby the "theoreticals" of the Cosmic Baseball Research process are transmuted into "practicalities" and transferred to the market place has been created.






























In the past the immediate reaction of the Cosmic Baseball Research community, whether governed by a genuine disbelief that the person accused could be guilty of misconduct, or that the accuser has some grudge against the accused, or even possibly a collective guilty conscience, has seemed to be one of closing ranks, excluding the accuser and denigrating the investigating team.




























I like to think that it is greatly to the credit of the profession in general and Cosmic Baseball Researchers and their teachers in particular that so little wrong doing actually comes to light.




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JCBA No. 20- Ethics of Cosmic Baseball Research
URL: http://www.cosmicbaseball.com/jcba20_ethics.html
Published: December 15, 2001
Copyright © 2001 by the Cosmic Baseball Association
email: editor@cosmicbaseball.com

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