How do they respond?

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How do they respond?
that’s what she wanted to know.

Eleven ton magnet hummed,
participants brains’ activ-
-ating to pictures of
faces, numbers, objects, words.

How did someone respond
to her research success?

They found a technicality in
musical notation.
Treble clefs had not been
ethically approved.

How did they respond
to this egregious complaint?

University investigated,
University reprimanded.

How did that someone respond
to their complaint’s success?

They wrote to the media,
announced her rebuke,
hinted, anonymously,
that she was involved in fraud.

How did she respond
to media accusations?

She requested her work be audited.
But regardless of the outcome,
reputational damage was done.

So how did she respond
with meaning in her life ripped away?

Her and her supportive husband
made a final protest,
needing to “retire from life”,
they left letters near their
dead bodies.

How did they respond
to such a tragedy?

The university conducted
a posthumous audit.
Eventually it ended –
no sign of fraud in sight.

Justine Sergent was a brilliant and talented researcher who was the first to discover an area in the brain that responds specifically to faces (now known as the fusiform face area). This research influenced my own PhD dissertation and no one will ever know just what we have missed by her early death (she was 44). Further details can be read here. Sadly, hers isn’t the only case of university ethics committees being used for harm, as documented here. Who indeed “guards the guardians?”

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11 thoughts on “How do they respond?

  1. I haven’t had chance to write much lately as I’ve been busy with work (including my own minor battles with my university’s ethics committee), but hopefully once the start of this semester settles down, I’ll be back on form.

  2. How do I respond to something like this? Perhaps I could imagine myself punching a Uni Vice-Chancellor as I increasingly do to a Madrasah Mullah but I have found that ultimately futile and this is already a matter that reeks of futility. What a waste! One big generous mind ended by small jealous minds. The one area of our bodies of which doctors know nothing – virtually nothing – has been left lacking in this and unknown further advances that could have emanated from this researcher. Frustrating and senseless.

    • Unfortunately, legal compliance and genuine ethical concern are not the same things, with universities tending to the former and individual researchers to the latter….makes for a mess and waste of people’s times (and this case lives).

  3. Oh, the politics of academia! This is the reason I align myself so loosely with any of these organizations, and prefer to do meaningful work outside of their petty little games. What a powerful poem, Rowan.

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