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New JACS EiC Erick Carreira: “correct your work-ethic immediately”

Erick Carreira's letter to Guido, from 1996. You all saw it probably at some point, and now it's being discussed again.

On 3 September 2020, the Journal of American Chemical Society (JACS), the top elite scientific journal of the US learned society ACS, announced the appointment of new Editor-in-Chief, Erick Carreira. A wise choice, since as chemistry professor at the prestigious ETH Zürich in Switzerland and prior to that, faculty member at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), Carreira is the perfect role model and a leader for all young scientists, someone to look up to and to emulate.

But then Twitter folks recalled a certain letter Carreira sent in 1996 to his postdoc Guido Koch, back at Caltech. Here it is, first publicised by Mitch André Garcia on a chemistry blog from 2010:

A transcript:


I would like to provide for you in written form what is expected from you as a member of the research group. In addition to the usual work-day schedule, I expect all of the members of the group to work evenings and weekends. You will find that this is the norm here at Caltech. On occasion, I understand that personal matters will make demands on your time which will require you to be away from your responsibilities to the laboratory. However, it is not acceptable to me when it becomes a habit.

I have noticed that you have failed to come in to lab on several weekends and more recently have failed In show up in the evenings. Moreover, in addition to such time off, you recently requested some vacation. I have no problem with vacation time that is well earned, but I do have a problem with continuous vacation and time off that interferes with the project- I find this very annoying and disruptive to your science.

I expect you to correct your work-ethic immediately.

I receive at least one post-doctoral application each day from the US and around the world. If you are unable to meet the expected work-schedule, I am sure that l can find someone else as an appropriate replacement for this important project.

Erick Carreira

Since the letter was first leaked, people have been wondering if it is real. Did someone pull a prank on Carreira, by fabricating that letter?

Note that in this missive, Carreira does not impose his own rules on Guido, but those of Caltech. In fact, sources assured me that such work practices were and still are perfectly standard at Caltech. Working in the lab late and on weekends was normal, everyone had to do it, as the sources said. Caltech used to be infamous for people working ungodly hours. Sometimes, lights were on in the labs even at 2 AM on a Saturday morning. Other US elite universities were not really much better, or same.

The same Chemistry Blog brought an update, referencing a 2010 Boston Globe blog article by Christopher Shea, which was deleted in the spring of 2016, maybe because it was probably not appreciated by someone:

Reached by email at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, where he runs a lab, Carreira said that the letter has been circulating for a dozen years, and he expressed frustration that it has surfaced again in such a public way. It has caused him to receive “many e-mails that have been threatening and downright inhumane,” he wrote. In response to questions about the letter’s authenticity, and a request for a more general comment, he forwarded an email that he had sent to an earlier correspondent. It said, in part:

I wonder whether you would think it fair to be judged on the basis of a letter 14 years old, especially when the comments and rash judgments are made without knowledge of the context or the circumstances surrounding the individuals involved. Indeed how does anyone out who is so quick to pass judgement and who is coming to conclusions know that it is not part of a 14-year old joke (or satire as you state) that backfired? …

I am quite sure everyone has at some time or another an e-mail, photo, letter, note, or comment that when taken out of context can be used to create whatever monster one wishes to envisage. After all no one is perfect. Is it really fair to be haunted by these endlessly? I do not know how old you are, but can you really say you have done nothing you would rather forget about and not be reminded of 14 years later? I like to think people grow and change.

In this note and in a shorter one to me, Carreira said that he had been advised by a lawyer not to comment on the validity or the context of the letter. (I asked him a follow-up question about the oblique suggestions that the letter was some kind of joke, but he has not yet replied.) He concluded the email he forwarded to me this way: “Guido and I are friends, who routinely stay in touch.

Aha, so it was a private joke between best friends Erick and Guido then! But wait, why did JACS issue this statement now, which is an apology by Carreira himself:

“A statement from Prof. Erick Carreira: “I regret writing this letter, as it in no way reflects my leadership approach today. I have made peace with those impacted by the letter. (1/3)

In the decades since it was written, I’ve grown as a teacher, as a mentor, as a researcher and as a person. I am proud of the way I work with my colleagues and students and believe that a healthy work-life balance is now more important than ever. (2/3) Whether I am leading a lab or leading a journal, I am committed to promoting a sustainable and positive cultural shift in our industry.” – Erick Carreira (3/3)

So it was not a joke then? Carreira recognised the error of his ways and apologises. Says he now changed his ways which probably means he allows his lab members to go home slightly earlier (maybe already at 7 PM?), and sometimes, they can take the entire weekend off? Carreira’s former lab members (those who made it to professorship) went to Twitter to explain that they used to work evenings and weekends entirely on their own accord and are otherwise grateful to their mentor, and so is actually Guido, or so they say:

It would be nice to hear of those Carreira lab alumni who were unable to deliver an 80h week, but these lazy buggers probably did not make it to professor, so who cares about them and their opinions. They are not potential authors for JACS either, so there.

In my view, it was not the contents of the letter which were the problem. Everyone who ever worked in a lab has been bullied and threatened like that, or at least knows someone who has been. Bullying used to be a sign of a strong virile leadership, much admired and rewarded in academia, especially in US. Only now did things start to change, slowly, as this recent case at Mayo Clinic shows.

Since EVERYBODY at Caltech was expected to work evenings and weekends, the rules sure did not come from Carreira. The problem was likely rather in the way he presented the Caltech rules to Guido: in a signed letter, on the official Caltech paper, with official heading. If the idea was to intimidate Guido, it apparently didn’t work, instead created other problems, even today.

The same Chemistry Blog cites an email by Carreira’s Californian colleague and HHMI professor Robert Tjian:

From now on, I or someone designated by me will take attendance at group meetings starting at 9:10 am. If you are not there, I will not sign your salary sheets. Also, if you haven’t noticed the number of people working on weekends and nights in the lab is the worst I’ve seen in my 17 years. The frequency of vacation, time taken off and other non-lab activities is bordering on the ridiculous. In case you forgot, the standard amount of time you are supposed to take is 2 weeks a year total, including Christmas. If there isn’t a substantial improvement in the next few months, I’ll have to think of some draconian measures to “motivate” you.

It goes on where the Berkeley biochemistry professor threatens to sack all the “lame ducks“. And, did Tjian suffer any negative consequences for that email? No. Don’t put your sadistic threats to your lab equipment in writing, and certainly not in an official headed letter, that is the rule at every university, usually easy to abide by. But Carreira didn’t.

Since in 2010 Carreira was quoted that the letter “has been circulating for a dozen years“, it must have been first circulated in 1998. That was by pure coincidence the same year where Carreira decided to leave Caltech despite having been appointed full professor there just in the previous year (1997), and go to ETH in Switzerland. Sure, ETH is among the top-ranking universities in Europe, and Switzerland has huge salaries compared to other European employers, but Caltech plays in a very different league, in both respects. Pity Carreira was so keen on Switzerland and didn’t want to give Caltech another chance, not even elsewhere in USA.

We do not know in which style Carreira continued leading his lab in Switzerland, but then again, ETH is an elite university and expects its people to deliver high-impact science to compete with the Americans (hence the retaining of Olivier Voinnet). Recently, ETH had its own bullying scandal which ended with a dismissal of the astronomy professor Marcella Carollo in 2019. The Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag reported that Carollo expected “superhuman commitment” from her students, like late-night meetings, weekend availability and not taking vacations. Until the newspapers started reporting in 2018, ETH had no issues with Carollo’s bullying and worktime control, at around same period when Carreira arrived.

Worktime control in the lab is something many group leaders and professors often exert, sometimes they actually pass on the pressure from their own superiors. Carreira was also seemingly explaining what the Caltech expects from everyone working in their labs, albeit somewhat ham-fistedly. After all, it is the only thing you really have in your power as a principal investigator (PI). You cannot motivate people: they arrive to your lab motivated, but under circumstances, they will lose the motivation very quickly, never to be restored. You sure cannot control the experimental outcomes (well, in a way you can, as my readers well know, but that would be research fraud), so you assume that by repeating experiments literally ad nauseam the desired results will materialise. Usually, they do, more on that in a moment.

This explains why it is not just elite universities like Caltech, Harvard or ETH where elite PIs force their lab members to work late evenings and weekends. Even small irrelevant and barely publishing labs can become such abusive places, I did my PhD in one. The idea is always to emulate the US scientific supremacy and publication success by emulating their work ethos of 60, 70, 80 or even more hours of lab work per week. Every minute spent not working the lab is time stolen from research, and a thief must be sanctioned accordingly.

But does working more really it lead to a better or a more productive science? One scientist who did work such shifts in US told me that most of the time she was busy fixing her own mistakes from yesterday which happened due to overwork. In this way, one might end up with negative productivity if you keep on working. Also, no elite journal is interested in how much work you put into your research, or how many experiments you did to assure the reproducibility. Instead, the journal editors want to see an elegant beautiful result; your future employers and grant givers want to see your elegant beautific paper in Nature, Cell or, to stay on the topic, JACS. How to get there? Will doing a lot of experiments help you finally end up with a result worthy of JACS?

No. Before trying to compete with the elite American labs, think: is it really the excessive work time or rather something else which lets them publish in top journals? Are these top-impact paper really reproducible? Are they always trustworthy? Are you willing to compete there?

Well, you could trash all results which don’t “fit” and keep repeating your experiments 24/7 until you get something which looks to your PI like it would be acceptable at JACS. If even that doesn’t work, and you really are tired as hell and need a break, but vacation is only available to those who have published… why not, ahem, gently nudge your experiment into the “right” direction? In the very worst case, you know what the results must be like, right? You spoke with your PI about that expectation so often, in your meetings at midnight or at 6 AM on Saturday mornings. Is it really dishonest to just assemble a “representative” figure in Photoshop, because what else can you really do to satisfy those nitpicking reviewers’ demands? You can always try to repeat the experiments “properly” once the paper is published, right? If someone later complains of irreproducibility, well, elite science in JACS is complicated and this is why you made it and they failed.

What I mean to say, is that when a PI forces their lab members to work late at night and on weekends, their real goal is to break and totally control them. To destroy their individuality, to turn them into submissive drones, their residual resistance redirected towards the lab’s trouble-makers and competitors, whose only goal in life is to satisfy their boss. These are the right people to install as professors as your franchise brand, for sure they will remain loyal and not dare to compete with you. They will all come to sing at your jubilee birthday (which is a bizarre academic tradition to show monarchical power, especially in Europe, like Carreira’s own 50th birthday event at ETH on 4 July 2013).

In best case, these drones will produce beautiful papers for JACS. Some papers will be like these here:

He et al JACS 2020. Elisabeth Bik on PubPeer: “Figure 2C: the mice in the Cy5-treated group look unexpectedly similar to the mice in the CRTC-treated group, except for the fluorescence signal.
Santra et al JACS 2011. Duplicated image and PubPeer comment: “Figure 4: no information about number of experiments and there is a lack of data points in two of the graphs in A and B.
Shao et al JACS 2012. PubPeer comment: “Figure S4 B showing “Fe3O4@NiAl-LDH microspheres synthesized without a SiO2 layer” in supporting information file is identical to Figure 4 C showing “Fe3O4@NiO hierarchical microspheres“. That fake figure was also reused in yet another paper, with different authors.
Paul & Caruthers JACS 2016. Retracted in May 2019

Update 7.09.2020

In case you wonder what the above illustrations have to do with the new JACS editor-in-chief Carreira, read this 2013 correction:

Supporting Information, pages S9 and S10. The 13C, 31P, and HSQC NMR spectra of the {Ir(3)2I} complex 4 were improperly manipulated by the first author to obscure small peaks corresponding to impurities from the Ir-complex catalyst. Unaltered spectra are included in the revised Supporting Information. The changes do not affect any of the conclusions of the published Communication.

It applies to this paper

Markus Roggen, Erick M. Carreira Stereospecific substitution of allylic alcohols to give optically active primary allylic amines: unique reactivity of a (P,alkene)Ir complex modulated by iodide Journal of the American Chemical Society (2010) doi: 10.1021/ja105271z

Update 8.09.2020

On 4 September, I reached out to Carreira, with the press office of ETH in cc, with some questions about the letter to Guido. I received no reply, and sent a reminder today. An ETH spokesman answered with reference to my question to Carreira “How did you change your behavior and leadership style since?”:

Please understand that we cannot answer any personal questions about individual employees.

To my question “How does ETH assure this will not happen again?”, the ETH spokesman sent me a list of general ETH guidelines about “respectful social behaviour” and new rules for professor recruitment and team management training.


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53 comments on “New JACS EiC Erick Carreira: “correct your work-ethic immediately”

  1. Kfir Lapid

    You assume here that if one overworks (defined by more than 40 hours a week and a low number of vacation days), then productivity reduces. I agree in part; however, it depends on your character and your work/life balance culture. I know people, who are not scientists, that for them 20 hours of work per week seems terrible. Likewise, to some, especially, Americans and Asians, 60 hours per week and 14 days of vacation per year are fair. Especially if there’s a reward, whether it’s real or not, at the end. If they work ‘only’ 40 hours per week, they would feel lazy. The threshold for exhaustion is higher.

    Now, let’s imagine such a work culture in a lab in Caltech. If a European trainee fails to meet those standards, he or she would be automatically considered as lazy, although productivity is demonstrated. Modern PIs assess the outcome of your work and disregard the number of hours. Yet, many have been brainwashed to check up on the hours, even if they don’t demand it outspokenly. I had such a PI in the US. He claimed not to care about the hours and readily approved every vacation I asked for – even one time weeks in a row (some days were off the record). Yet, he compared me to other postdocs who worked their ass off. Once, we had a meeting with a physician-scientist resident who looked very tired. After the meeting, he whispered that the guy we just met works in long shifts and practices science beyond those hours; he should be an example for you, the PI smiled. I thought to myself, for me, the opposite is true.

    My opinion here is independent of bullying, as described here.


    • Do you really think a Chinese full professor works 60h a week? Or every US one for that matter?
      This is exactly how they “motivate” their people to work like slaves: the promise of a respite when you reach the top.
      My sadistic PhD boss (a professor who got the job by academic birthright and arse-kissing) used to tell his female members that they can only get pregnant when they are tenured. The bugger lived near university and checked for the lights in the windows when he walked his dog in late evening. Everyone in the lab was scared of him, students hated him, yet he was made dean.


      • An the name of this gifted guy is…


      • yeah that is a way to go for being a dean in /famous German city/ too….but this /famous German city/ guy was idiot enough to bully his fellows in emails. Maybe one day I give to you Leonid those emails.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kfir Lapid

        Some PIs stopped working hard once they received tenureship. I’m well aware that all my bullying PIs were like that as students and postdocs, according to their colleagues at the time. Not that it justfies their behavior of course. Even my most recent nice non-bullying boss, who is now an emeritus, works 7 days a week and barely takes vacation. All of us received email messages in early mornings, late evenings and weekends. As a PA, I was familiar with his schedule.


      • Former colleague, who suffered from same abusive professor much more than I did (male privilege):


    • 60h per week is a heavy work load, and not a sustainable one. There are 60/70h weeks here and there, but it’s quite heavy.

      I have two remarks: one personal, of course, I went to university and my ego is so important, and another general that actually matters a lot more. I did the conventional MD-PhD and worked ungodly hours during my PhD. Of course, the “not PhD-doing MDs” find ways to put you down and will brag about the 60….80…100h weeks they do in a strange “my life is worse than yours” competition – I’ve given it a different nickname, not appropriate here. During my residency in a surgical specialty, yes, we had ungodly hours – we’d have to follow a case with modest or little pause for up to 36h non-stop, which is illegal in the country we were working/being trained. That said, I have a few times in my life done “100h weeks” and I do not believe anyone who claims to push this many hours sustainably: it’s a destructive workload. There are reasons or situations in which people will put in such efforts, in the context of a project, deadlines and so on. I have a good friend who is a turbine field engineer and when they start rotating large engines to deliver them to the client, he and his colleagues have to make 24….36….64h shifts because, the expensive large machine was not designed to follow human circadian cycles. So they work as long as they need to work. But that’s not his routine, it only happens a few times per year.

      To what really matters: there is work that is simply abusive, precarious and exploits people. If you live in a large “developing world” capital, and you are not wealthy, chances are you are working more than PhDs and MDs at Caltech and Harvard, or wherever. I spent one year in a hospital in a South American capital in 2018, and the hours that workers of delivery apps pulled were unacceptable. They make pennies on the hour, cruise on motorcycles through dangerous traffic for at least 12h a day to deliver food in a box strapped to their backs. They are also the main victims of serious accidents that ended up in the hospital where I was working: think mutilation and put an exponent to it. Add to it the commute they need to make, and so on: they tend to have 6 to 8h of their days for sleep, family, errands, etc. This is the case for many workers around the world, who do not get the illusion that they are investing in their education like a PhD or an MD, but have to endure precarious work conditions for subsist.

      I also saw what some other people need to endure to put food on the table and any idea I had that “hard work will take you far in life” is gone. If you bother looking at the vast majority of people, peek outside the university, you may re-think all of this.

      Leonid already replied: do you really think Chinese full professors work 60h per week? Have you clocked what 60h per week means? And if you don’t need it, is it worth it? And if you ever hear someone in a white coat or fancy suit claim “I work 100h per week” to justify a distortion in how s/he excessively paid, feel free to call that person a liar. Nobody works 100h per week in a sustainable way. These will happen here and there, but it’s nothing a human being can sustain regularly.

      This topic is much larger, important and complicated than just personal notions of work ethic. Take what we are going through right now: COVID19. People will lose work, income, etc. One way to solve this is to reduce the hours worked and maintained people employed. But they might feel lazy? Well, if having some free time makes someone feel “lazy”, maybe we need to review our values and learn that there is more to life than making a handful of people wealthy and prestigious at the expense of a personal feeling of “mission accomplished”.

      *About Carreira’s letter. the “revenge porn” tone that this affair took isn’t necessarily the best way to go about it. If he wrote that letter, and it was not a “joke” and so on, well, he should suffer proportional correct reprehension for it. Not arbitrary public shaming ad eternum. I suggest the recent video by the very intelligent young Youtuber Natalie Wynn on “Justice” to think a bit about ways to criticise bad behaviour in universities and the work place. We all have a knee jerk reflex for revenge, but these stories are never so simple, people are not simple, you can do a better job than this Leonid.


      • I have contacted ETH about whether Erick Carreira changed his leadership style, and how they assured he did. They don’t reply. Instead, I already spoke with one of his former ETH lab members. Guess what. Yeah, exactly.
        This is probably why ETH is not replying, what can they say.


      • Interesting comparison to “revenge porn”. Which happens when misogynous attitudes in a patriarchal society are used to publicly humiliate a woman by publishing images of her doing in private something perfectly legal and in no way unethical or disreputable, i.e. being nude or having consensual adult sex.
        How does that equate to publishing this letter is something I struggle to wrap my head around, dear Petr.


      • There is nothing to wrap your mind around, I expressed myself poorly and used a terrible term to describe the tone of these affairs. I take it back.

        I never meant to equate the treatment given to Carreira to revenge porn: I meant “the tone” that goes with taking it to the internet to complain about these types on the internet.

        It’s good, because it made it clear that terms like witch hunting and so on will all have vulnerable victims in their roots: thank you for bringing this up.

        I actually tried to inquire on how should someone who did break a law, harm someone and so on be treated online? So, that makes the choice of tone (not equation) even worse.

        The question still stands: what to do about such types? The question is not a defence of him or these types (they are abundant) – it really is an honest question. You focus on academia in your texts, but these are problems we face in all professional settings. Worse, with an industry of human resources designed to protect the leadership.

        So, it is not surprising ETH gave you that treatment. A few of his students actually speaking out is the best way to figure it out. But there is no PhD union, no syndicate for post-docs and so on – so these are people who will tend to be very cautious about speaking out about their superiors or their institutions. Their livelihoods can depend on making these people and institutions happy. Whistleblowing is the only way.

        That said, I meant you can do a better than this really is mean as format and content. If we insist on the “retraction watch” format, all we will accomplish is the small satisfaction of seeing someone exposed here and there: changes nothing. It hasn’t worked. Publishing houses, upper education and the research conducted in these places need to reach a broader audience. The broader audience should be well aware of due process, and so on: hence I maintain that yes, you can do better than this. And I hope you do.


      • Hi Petr,
        thank you for clarifying.
        Retraction Watch and I report very different things, I hope you noticed.
        Please check the new update above. ETH replied, by not saying much. Which is telling, I urged them to say nice things about Carreira’s behaviour there, and got nothing.


      • Thank you.

        I think I was unfair to you. It’s the written comment format. By “you can do a better job”, I wanted to vent that someone like you can create ways to reach more people. Turn this debate into a popular debate, that brings in more than academics to the conversation. People see science as a “good” in itself, but the only people debating how it’s being done and pointing out to its flaws are people who went through graduate school. The wider public does not care. And I think we need to make them care about this. But first, we need to explain what the hell is going on.

        I still think this can benefit from podcasts and more variety of communication.

        One question I can’t answer is: there are enough PhD holders out there who do not need their former PIs or universities for anything. They are in industry, unemployed, etc. Would they talk openly about all the nonsense and abuse they witnessed? Or have they been domesticated to the workplace and wouldn’t speak?

        Podcasts….with flesh and blood people who have seen the sausage factory. I dream of something like this. Yes, this is much better than my days of developing an ulcer watching retractions….I quit that addiction.


  2. Beautiful article. Thanks for your work!


  3. NMH, the failed scientist and incel

    Ive heard that in the field of academic synthetic organic chemistry very long hours are the norm. Part of this may be driven by how hard it is to get a good job in this field (as a lot of the work has been outsourced to Chindia) and so you need a lot of good papers and work for famous people (national academy of science or Nobel prize winners) to get a good job, But I think it could be intra-lab competition could be a factor. Also, long hours does not equate to intensity of the work; some people may surf the net when monitoring an overnight refluxing.

    I’m extremely skeptical of anybody who worked for him really telling the truth about him, especially if they say their name and have a good academic job. Of course you are going to say great things about him if you submit papers to JACS, that kind of brown-nosing is pretty much needed nowadays to get ahead in academia. Who you know is now more important than the science you do.

    I think only the truth will come out from anonymous comments at sites like this delightful blog. Remember, after one anonymous commentor about Richard Marias suggested he was a bully, the flood on thatb thread occurred. Not a trickle, it was a flood. Still fun to go through that .


  4. In US academia, we all know what kind of postdocs you pick from the massive pool of applicants from all over the world. On tenure track? Pick Koreans and Chinese. Tenured or later, pick some Europeans and Americans, but be sure to keep Chinese/Koreans to be the labor. And we always know that postdocs are much more cost effective than PhD students, especially international postdocs.

    When I was a poor postdoc, one day I felt a bit sick, went home. got a call from my PI around 6:30pm yelling whether I wanna contribute to the project or not. Is he a bad guy? Probably not. Are we friends now? Yes.

    Just trying to explain why the several Carreira’s former trainees cited in your article defended him. I would have defended my “supposedly bullying” PI if he’s portrayed as a bully but nothing else.


    • Actually, calling a postgrad at 6:30pm and yelling at them is “bad guy” behaviour. No one benefits from bullying team members so that they are too scared to stay home when sick. The postgrad themselves can likely not concentrate, the risk of accidents increases, and they may very well infect a colleague.


  5. Lee Rudolph

    Accounts like these always make me particularly glad that I’m a mathematician. There are, no doubt, bullies, harassers, and general assholes in mathematics, including (proportionately or not) among the very best mathematicians. But there’s really nothing like the laboratory experience, either for graduate students or for post-docs. YES, there have been (and may be still) whole subfields of negligible importance with a small number of superstars at the top, churning out graduate students with narrow focus and (at least by the time they get a Ph.D.) no capacity for creative research (as contrasted with incremental progress on dead ends), and creating large peninsulas in the network of citations that are connected to the mainland at only a few nodes (namely, the superstar and, perhaps, their first-generation descendants). But (other than consuming limited resources and polluting the intellectual atmosphere) this doesn’t affect the body of mathematical knowledge. It’s not like literally fabricating experimental results (well, yes it is, but still…).

    I welcome corrections of my probably too rosy view of things.


  6. Some Twitter comments:


  7. Jan Lakota

    In the US labs in the eighties this kind of working hours was not unusual. Working for 14 hours during “normal” days, 10 hours on Saturdays, 8 hours on Sundays. Up to (sometimes more than) 90 hours a week. And under some people during nights too. It was only not in a written form. “A big mistake” if one could later track such a letter… No wonder of the epidemics of fraud and irreproducible results.


  8. Gene Hunt DCI

    Short version…

    back in ’96 when times were hard, expectations and work loads were more intense and demands from leader were a bit draconian. (and I also cared about sentence structure)

    Stagger Lee confirmed the “incident” happened, explaind times were different and offered an apology.

    Random thought below
    To paraphrase “Please, please, pretty please send be a tip.. ONLY IN $ 5.00 INCREMENTS”

    After your Crimes and Punishment like Yelp reviews of your dollar store lobster do you provide a link to your CV.

    It’s gone 6, time for Luigi’s and turning off the random thought generator..


  9. Vladimir Svetlov

    The bigger problem is that this bullying mindset is metastatic. It’s spreads from your Harvards and Yales to your ASUs and BSUs all the way to Z. One thing you make a deal with the Devil, trading 3 years of your life in exchange for access to Devil’s lab, funding, infrastructure, expertise, and political pull. And when you done, you become the King of America, or, failing that, get on tenure track. Quite another thing is falling in not with the Devil, but a run-of-the-mill shaitan, who has none of the carrots but all of the sticks. Someone tries to replicate the rat race of the high-profile labs, but has neither their money, nor the vision; someone who thinks you can compensate for the lack of brains by doubling the time they spend at work.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I think that letter was obviously a joke between colleagues.


    • catherinajtv

      I wonder why you think that.


      • The sarcasm and absurdity of the text suggest to be a joke. And the indirect evidence which suggests that it was a joke that the person who wrote did not admit clearly that it was a joke. Back to 1996 he would probably be in a bigger trouble by admitting that he fooled around with his university letterhead, than admitting that he broke work law. It was the least worst scenario to play along as it would have been real. Probably in 1996 USA it was normal to say those words in person, but I doubt that it was fine to write them down in an official letter. Today this would surely not happen, only a few bully bosses are stupid enough to give written evidence of their bullying. For example J… P. Tu……an from U.. in Germany did bully in emails.


      • NMH, the failed scientist and incel

        The chemistry dept of the school I work at makes you sign a form that says you will work a 55 hr week as a grad student. It would be worth it if it wasn’t a bottom drawer-ranked R1 chem grad school.


  11. I notice that Guido Koch hasn’t said a thing about this. Was he approached for comment?


  12. Michael Koksharov

    Actually, he looks like a great candidate for this position if he follows his own guidelines.
    Then he can work, for example, 40h per week for his lab/university and 20+h for the JACS!
    Maybe he will even have to time to actually read the papers instead of just looking through reviewers’ responses.


  13. NMH, the failed scientist and incel

    Reading the Carreira schill JJ Sabitini twitter feed made me almost throw up on my 96 well qPCR plate. My god.
    The antedote was Leonid’s rotweiler joke. Will see how this guy feels when the US government collapses and he’s out of a job, competing against young org chemists from famous persons lab. I bet he wont be so misty eyed.


    • Why, thank you!


      • in my opinion if somebody cannot fit an 8 hours job into 9 or 10 hours as maximum, there must be an issue with time management, or the job description. also, the above schedule is not a healthy work relationship. It is OK to do jogging and karaoke with colleagues maybe once in every 2 years, but hey: they are my colleagues and not my intimate friends. I did see some labs who were doing everything together, but I also did see that they did do it to watch and control each other 7/24. They did not trust each other, and all that insane group of people was “led” by not a leader, rather by a control freak power hungry jerk, who just wanted to be in charge.


  14. The abused become abusers. Endless cycle, especially when those who claw their way to the top do their best to enable other abusers. Given that ACS has become a cesspit for fake crap, seems like a good fit to me.


    • I am not here to defend ACS (I am not even American), but to be honest I find your comment on what ACS has become a bit harsh. Perhaps it is because I know a limited number of ACS journals. I have reviewed papers for 23 different journals, and tens of papers for a few ACS ones. Every time I recommended the rejection of a manuscript (about 75%) and when the other reviewers had the same opinion, the editors followed the recommendation. In case of conflicting reviews, they asked further reviews by additional reviewers. This was not necesseraly the case when reviewing for for-profit major publishers, where sometimes I had the feeling that my opinion did not really matter. If I were to publish again in my field (theoretical chemistry), I’d go for an ACS or AIP (American Institute of Physics), definitely not-OA, journal. I do not know whether ACS suck, but if they do so, my feeling is that they suck less than the others.


      • Maybe Owlbert, being a regular reader of my site, was rather referring to ACS’ attitude to research fraud? This article shows how it works: some pathetic small-time crook is exposed on pubpeer with dozens of outrageouly fraudulent papers. ACS journals seem to always take the easy route and issue corrections declaring that conclusions are not affected.


      • Check out ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces on the Retraction Watch database. Even with its famously weak gag reflex, ACS has coughed up 22 retractions in the past 6 years for some of the lamest efforts at fraud and plagiarism on record. Then have a shufti at ACS Nano….. Let’s face it, ACS is pay to play and they operate by the pirate publisher code: publish what you can, take nothing back.
        It does seem to be true that the flagship JACS has higher standards, but they need something shiny in the window to bring in the paying customers.


    • @Leonid. I was a bit shocked by the wording “cesspit for fake crap”, which I personnaly find excessive. I also read that post about that shameful paper in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces you mention. Call me naive or idealistic if you like, but in fact it is because of such papers or other papers you discuss on your site that I still accept to review for ACS and AIP. I have read so many papers which make no sense, that I thought that I could perhaps try at my microscopic level help have such papers not being published. Moreover I do not have the talent of Elisabeth Bik, Smut Clyde, TigerBB or others. And yes journal editors, including at ACS, have a responsibility when they are uncapable of pulling the plug on a work that’s obviously deceptive by retracting it.


      • How about every time you submit your review, you remind ACS of the fraud they refuse to retract? What if other reviewers do same? Will ACS change their practice then?


      • Thank you owlbert and Leonid for the comments and for waking me up. I naively thought that some area of research were less contaminated by misconduct than those where there is much more money involved. Just remembering what I witnessed myself over the years, I clearly was not thinking. I guess ACS just lost a reviewer.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. NMH, the failed scientist and incel

    Another thing to keep in mind is that the staff at ACS pubs make salaries approaching a million USD a year, by their own admission. They have been declared a non-profit through their affiliation with the ACS, but basically they are just another Elsevier like publishing house…just a filthy rich one, made on the tuition of US students (who pay for library access). So in part they are a scam on the US taxpayer.

    Another interesting fact: Madeline Jacobs, the former CEO of ACS pubs (million dollar baby), doesnt even have a degree in science, never went to grad school.


  16. There seems to be an approach in Germany to get PhD students be “productive”: Submit a cumulative PhD thesis, i.e. a thesis that is made up of articles with a short introduction and conclusion. In the last Department where I supervised a PhD student, they were asked to have at least 4 papers accepted for publication as 1st author to be able to defend. How a PhD student is supposed to do that in 3 years without working during weekends and vacations, given that the 1st year is mostly used to understand the research topic and construct a setup, remains a mystery for me. In fact extra-funding for some months is necessary to reach that goal. What I observed is that there was sometimes a significant discrepancy between what was in the papers with several authors and the actual scientific level of the PhD candidate. But in the end, the student gets their degree and the boss, their department and the university get 4 papers: everyone’s happy. And for those who care whether the student really has what it takes in terms of knowledge and methodology to be a PhD, the student receives the best mark if the committee decides they are any good, otherwise they receive a mark whose meaning is understood by everyone in Germany.


    • the cumulative thesis papers are in most cases written by the PI, and not by the student.


    • It doesn’t have to be all first-author papers though. So the professor publishes 4 papers on 4 projects, and each of the 4 PhD students is coauthor on all 4 of them. Everyone is happy.


    • Interesting comments:
      As a graduate student, I invited and ultimately hosted Erick Carreira to speak at my university. That was one of the single biggest mistakes I ever had made in my entire graduate career. The very first thing out of his mouth to me wasn’t hello, hi, nice to meet you, or anything like that… no, it was “I was expecting someone a little more mature looking”. […]
      He lied about some of his travelings and was trying to get his whole trip paid for by my university: from ETH to the California so he can consult with a few pharma companies, to my university, to another university in the US and back to ETH.

      Another comment:
      I have met Prof. Carreira and people who have worked in his lab, although it has been many years since my last interaction with him and I would like to give the benefit of the doubt that he is not the same person who tormented Guido and his contemporaries at Caltech. I have heard from good sources that his tactics at ETH are different, but the bullying was the same. But let’s not let what must be a complex person become a caricature. Such people and situations deserve more consideration.


  17. A previous chemist

    I worked for a famous chemistry prof at a certain famous tech university in the US. Lots of rumors about him, both personal and research wise. Apparently this esteemed gentleman of a professor used to have group meetings twice a week, and even made a student cry once.

    Anyway, having been in that lab, it’s quite obvious that his papers do not deserve to be in the journals they are published in. I even overheard one of his students say that his products could never be obtained as solids as reported in the paper. Hence, a case of overinflated yields for reactions that barely work. I quickly realized that this professor was quite possibly the stupidest professor I’d ever met. Really is a shame that he’s held in such high regard within my chemistry field.


  18. Pingback: Jan van Deursen’s senolytics: from bench to failed clinical trial – For Better Science

  19. I had a boss who “favored” long working hours. He would never officially ask us to come in weekends or work through nights but he would keep emphasizing that he does and leave snippy comments when he “caught” you leaving at a reasonable time.

    I am absolutely convinced that ramping up the hours does not ramp up productivity. In fact I walked into his office more than once finding him fallen asleep on his desk. Even more so, he would fall asleep in meetings regularly, sometimes with external customers. Deeply embarassing.

    If you’re doing creative work, there is a limit to what your brain can produce. If you go beyond it, you will produce garbage and even simple tasks will take much longer than they would with a fresh mind. It is absolutely pointless. Hence, for conceptual work, I see no big merit in extending much beyond an 8-10 hour workday. There may be some tasks you could still do but you’d usually do better just increasing your workforce (like getting students to help).

    We employ a trust-based system. There is no control of working hours, neither when nor where you work. Since we put so much trust in them, they all feel a strong urge not to betray the trust and in fact work more than we ask them to. Yet, we regularly remind them to monitor their working hours and make sure they get enough recreation. Why? Because it is important for a healthy state of mind, which is important to work productively. And because we live in the 21st century.

    I am actually convinced this works and I hope the generation that doesn’t will eventually vanish.


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