The Grimm Letter

David Colquhoun writes in his blog of Stefan Grimm, a professor at Imperial College London who died in September. There is now an email circulating in Grimm’s name which speaks of his troubles with department administration:

In March ’14 I then received the ultimatum email below. 200,000 pounds research income every year is required. Very interesting. I was never informed about this before and cannot remember that this is part of my contract with the College.[…]

But the email below indicates otherwise. I got this after the student for whom I “have plans” received the official admission to the College as a PhD student. He waited so long to work in our group and I will never be able to tell him that this should now not happen. What these guys don’t know is that they destroy lives. Well, they certainly destroyed mine.


The cause of death is not apparent though it came ‘suddenly and unexpectedly’, we are given to learn. Nevertheless, if they had anything to do with it, it is painful to think a professor could be driven to the edge of life from funding pressures. Disturbingly, it means less harmful actions are likely far more common. Many bend, the uncompromising ones break.

When it comes to science one wonders how many labs, careers, and lives have been saved by little frauds and white lies.



  1. Shub Niggurath

    In 2009, a paper titled “How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data” was published in PLOS One

    Methodologically, it was a survey and questionnaire meta-analysis.

    The authors found ‘a pooled weighted average of 1.97% (N = 7, 95%CI: 0.86–4.45) of scientists admitted to have fabricated, falsified or modified data or results at least once –a serious form of misconduct by any standard– and up to 33.7% admitted other questionable research practices.’

    Adjusting for low self-reporting rates, the authors concluded this was likely a ‘conservative estimate of the true prevalence of scientific misconduct.’

    The article is here:

  2. Shub Niggurath

    Colquhoun further writes:

    I’m told that if you apply for an Academic Clinical Fellowship at Imperial you are told

    “Objectives and targets: The goal would be to impart sufficient training in the chosen subspecialty, as to enable the candidate to enter a MD/PhD programme at the end of the fellowship. During the entire academic training programme, the candidate is expected to publish at least five research articles in peer-reviewed journals of impact factor greater than 4.”

    That’s a recipe for short term, unoriginal research. It’s an incentive to cut corners. Knowing that a paper has been written under that sort of pressure makes me less inclined to believe that the work has been done thoroughly. It is a prostitution of science.