Book reviews

Non-fiction

Kees Schuyt - Scientific Integrity. The Rules of Academic Research (2019)

This book has become an analysis of the norms and values behind integrity and honesty in science and of their development since the mid-1980s. Around 1985, there was a shift in both the views on and the structure of scientific research. In the Netherlands, this shift coincided with the introduction of the system of conditional funding for scientific research (between 1981 and 1985), the institutionalization of PhD research, and the establishment of a system for research institutes (from 1986). This study details the development of the new rules established in various codes of conduct for scientific practice and the way in which suspected violations are evaluated and addressed.

Hub Zwart - Tales of Research Misconduct (2017 Open Access)

“This monograph contributes to the scientific misconduct debate from an oblique perspective, by analysing seven novels devoted to this issue, namely: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (1925), The affair by C.P. Snow (1960), Cantor’s Dilemma by Carl Djerassi (1989), Perlmann’s Silence by Pascal Mercier (1995), Intuition by Allegra Goodman (2006), Solar by Ian McEwan (2010) and Derailment by Diederik Stapel (2012). Scientific misconduct, i.e. fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, but also other questionable research practices, have become a focus of concern for academic communities worldwide, but also for managers, funders and publishers of research. The aforementioned novels offer intriguing windows into integrity challenges emerging in contemporary research practices. They are analysed from a continental philosophical perspective, providing a stage where various voices, positions and modes of discourse are mutually exposed to one another, so that they critically address and question one another. They force us to start from the admission that we do not really know what misconduct is. Subsequently, by providing case histories of misconduct, they address integrity challenges not only in terms of individual deviance but also in terms of systemic crisis, due to current transformations in the ways in which knowledge is produced. Rather than functioning as moral vignettes, the author argues that misconduct novels challenge us to reconsider some of the basic conceptual building blocks of integrity discourse.”

Yuehong (Helen) Zhang - Against plagiarism: a guide for editors and authors (2015)

This is the first volume of a book series dedicated to “Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Scientific and Scholarly Communication”. A practical guide will importantly contribute to the awareness of the relevant communities, bringing to the surface the basic rules and examples from the literature.

(Springer.com)

Mario Livio - Brilliant blunders (2014)

We all make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. And that includes five of the greatest scientists in history: Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, Albert Einstein. But the mistakes that these great scientists made helped science to advance. Indeed, as Mario Livio explains in this fascinating book, science thrives on error; it advances when erroneous ideas are disproven. All five scientists were great geniuses and fascinating human beings. Their blunders were part of their genius and part of the scientific process. Livio brilliantly analyses their errors to show where they were wrong and right, but what makes his book so enjoyable to read is Livio’s analysis of the psychology of these towering figures. Along the way the reader learns an enormous amount about the evolution of life on earth and in the universe, but from an unusual vantage point: the mistakes of great scientists rather than the achievements that made them famous.

Luca Consoli & Ron Welters (red.) - De goede wetenschapper (in Dutch) (2014)

This bundle is in Dutch.

Het bedrijven van goede wetenschap gaat over meer dan alleen het correct toepassen van de regels. Wat is de kunst van goede wetenschap? Welke verantwoordelijkheden heb je als wetenschapper en wat betekent dit in de praktijk? Wat zijn de essentiële kenmerken van wat iemand tot een goede en deugdzame wetenschapper maakt? Mag alles wat kan? Van gifgas tot griepvirus. Van datamassage tot fraude.

Debora Weber-Wulff - False feathers: a perspective on Academic plagiarism (2014)

Since human beings have been writing it seems there has been plagiarism. It is not something that sprouted with the advent of the Internet. Teachers have been struggling for years in countries all over the globe to find good methods for dealing with the problem of plagiarizing students. How do we spot plagiarism? How do we teach them not to plagiarize? And how do we deal with those who have been found out to be plagiarists?

(Springer)

Dan Ariely - The Honest Truth about Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone, Especially Ourselves (2013)

Most of us think of ourselves as honest, but, in fact, we all cheat. From Washington to Wall Street, the classroom to the workplace, unethical behavior is everywhere. None of us is immune, whether it’s the white lie to head off trouble or padding our expense reports. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, award-winning, bestselling author Dan Ariely turns his unique insight and innovative research to the question of dishonesty.

Gustaaf C Cornelis - Eerlijke wetenschap (2013)

Dreigt het vertrouwen in het wetenschappelijke wereldbeeld en in de wetenschappelijke onderzoeksmethode volledig teloor te gaan? Is het niet de hoogste tijd om die ontoelaatbare misbruiken in de wetenschap uit te roeien? Dit boek presenteert waarden aan studenten, criteria aan wetenschapsmensen en argumenten aan beleidsmakers om misbruiken, fraude en plagiaat te voorkomen. Aan de verbijsterde leek biedt de analyse een verhelderend inzicht.

James Lang - Cheating lessons (2013)

Cheating Lessons is a practical guide to tackling academic dishonesty at its roots. Drawing on an array of findings from cognitive theory, Lang analyses the specific, often hidden features of course design and daily classroom practice that create opportunities for cheating.

(Amazon.com)

Peter C Gotzsche - Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime (2013)

Prescription drugs are the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. In his latest ground-breaking book, Peter C Gøtzsche exposes the pharmaceutical industries and their charade of fraudulent behavior, both in research and marketing where the morally repugnant disregard for human lives is the norm. (…)

The book addresses, in evidence-based detail, an extraordinary system failure caused by widespread crime, corruption, bribery and impotent drug regulation in need of radical reforms.

Nicholas Steneck et al - Integrity in the Global Research Arena (2013)

The major content and discussions of the Third World Conference on Research Integrity (convened in Montréal, 2013) are reported in this book. The contents are divided in six parts:

  • The diversity of national approaches to research integrity
  • Principles and responsibilities
  • Responding to research misconduct
  • Fostering integrity in research
  • Responsible conduct of research training
  • Integrity and society
Gary Comstock - Research Ethics: A Philosophical Guide to the Responsible Conduct of Research (2013)

Education in the responsible conduct of research typically takes the form of online instructions about rules, regulations, and policies. Research Ethics takes a novel approach and emphasizes the art of philosophical decision-making. Part A introduces egoism and explains that it is in the individual’s own interest to avoid misconduct, fabrication of data, plagiarism and bias. Part B explains contractualism and covers issues of authorship, peer review and responsible use of statistics. Part C introduces moral rights as the basis of informed consent, the use of humans in research, mentoring, intellectual property and conflicts of interests. Part D uses two-level utilitarianism to explore the possibilities and limits of the experimental use of animals, duties to the environment and future generations, and the social responsibilities of researchers.

(Amazon.co.uk)

Ben Goldacre - Bad Pharma: How Medicine is broken, and how we can fix it (2012)

Ben Goldacre puts the $600bn global pharmaceutical industry under the microscope. What he reveals is a fascinating, terrifying mess.

Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway - Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2012)

Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. Remarkably, the same individuals surface repeatedly – some of the same figures who have claimed that the science of global warming is not settled denied the truth of studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. Doubt is our product, wrote one tobacco executive. These ‘experts’ supplied it.

Frank Miedema - Science 3.0 (2012)

Bundle of nine essays on issues in science concerning autonomy, commercial interests and authenticity. Read more in English or in Dutch. The book is also available in Dutch: Wetenschap 3.0.

Frank van Kolfschooten - Ontspoorde wetenschap: over fraude, plagiaat en academische mores (in Dutch) (2012)

This book is in Dutch.

Geruchtmakend onderzoek naar dubieuze praktijken in de Nederlandse wetenschap: fraude, plagiaat en dergelijke. Dank zij hardnekkig speurwerk – wetenschappers hangen om allerlei redenen hun vuile was liever niet buiten – heeft Van Kolfschooten voldoende gevallen achterhaald om er een sappig boek mee te vullen. Ook wijst hij op factoren die de neiging tot frauderen versterken: publikatiedwang, de noodzaak om fondsen te werven en de ongebreidelde groei van de wetenschappelijke produktie.

Tina Gunsalus - The young professionals survival guide (2012)

C. K. Gunsalus, a nationally recognized expert on professional ethics, uses short, pungent real-world examples to help people new to the work world recognize the situations that can lead to career-damaging missteps–and prevent them. Gunsalus offers questions to ask yourself (and others) to help you recognize trouble and temptation, sample scripts to use to avoid being pressured into doing something you’ll regret, and guidance in handling disputes fairly and diplomatically. (Amazon.com)

Max Bazerman & Ann Tenbrunsel - Blind Spots (2012)

Why we fail to do what’s right, and what to do about it.

In Blind Spots, leading business ethicists Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel examine the ways we overestimate our ability to do what is right and how we act unethically without meaning to. The authors investigate the nature of ethical failures in the business world and beyond, and illustrate how we can become more ethical, bridging the gap between who we are and who we want to be. 

(Amazon.com)

Diederik Stapel - Derailment (Dutch: Ontsporing) (2012)

In this book (in Dutch), Stapel tells his side of the story, his motivations for science and the temptations he fell for. An interesting story of deceive: of colleagues, of the society and of himself.

See also the Unofficial English translation.

Carl Elliott - White coat, black hat: adventure on the dark side of medicine (2011)

A tongue-in-cheek account of the changes that have transformed medicine into big business. Physician and medical ethicist Carl Elliott tracks the new world of commercialized medicine from start to finish, introducing the professional guinea pigs, ghostwriters, thought leaders, drug reps, public relations pros, and even medical ethicists who use medicine for (sometimes huge) financial gain. Along the way, he uncovers the cost to patients lost in a health-care universe centered around consumerism.

Eugenie S Reich - Plastic Fantastic: How the biggest fraud in physics shook the scientific world (2009)

This is the story of wunderkind physicist Jan Hendrik Schön who faked the discovery of a new superconductor made from plastic. (…) But as other researchers tried to recreate Schön’s experiments, the scientific community learned that it had been duped. Why did so many top experts, including Nobel prize-winners, support Schön? What led the major scientific journals to publish his work, and promote it with press releases? And what drove Schön, by all accounts a mild-mannered, modest and obliging young man, to tell such outrageous lies?

(Bol.com)

Frederick Grinnell - Everyday Practice of Science: Where Intuition and Passion Meet Objectivity and Logic (2008)

Balancing scientific opportunities with societal needs depends on appreciating both the promises and the ambiguities of science. Understanding practice informs discussions about how to manage research integrity, conflict of interest, and the challenge of modern genetics to human research ethics.

(Amazon)

Ezekiel J Emanuel et al - The Oxford Textbook of Clinical Research Ethics (2008)

The book’s 73 chapters offer a wide-ranging and systematic examination of all aspects of research with human beings. Considering the historical triumphs of research as well as its tragedies, the textbook provides a framework for analyzing the ethical aspects of research studies with human beings. Through both conceptual analysis and systematic reviews of empirical data, the contributors examine issues ranging from scientific validity, fair subject selection, risk benefit ratio, independent review, and informed consent to focused consideration of international research ethics, conflicts of interests, and other aspects of responsible conduct of research.

(Amazon.co.uk)

Francis L. Macrina - Scientific Integrity, Text and Cases in Responsible Conduct of Research

Conceived as a turnkey text, the book offers background, analysis, teaching tools, and associated online resources that will enable virtually any practicing scientist to create and teach a course in the responsible conduct of research.

(Bol.com)

Website companion contains many useful links to websites offering relevant additional information regarding the chapters of the book.

Richard A Deyo & Donald L Patrick - Hope or hype (2005)

Medical science has always promised – and often delivered – a longer, better life. But as the pace of science accelerates, do our expectations become unreasonable, fueled by an industry bent on profits and a media desperate for big news? Hope or Hype is a taboo-shattering look at what drives the American obsession with medical miracles, exposing the equipment manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies; doctors and hospitals too quick to order surgery; the politicians; the press; and our own technoconsumption mindset.

Frank van Kolfschooten - Valse vooruitgang (in Dutch) (1993)

This book is in Dutch.

Geruchtmakend onderzoek naar dubieuze praktijken in de Nederlandse wetenschap: fraude, plagiaat en dergelijke. Dank zij hardnekkig speurwerk – wetenschappers hangen om allerlei redenen hun vuile was liever niet buiten – heeft Van Kolfschooten voldoende gevallen achterhaald om er een sappig boek mee te vullen. Ook wijst hij op factoren die de neiging tot frauderen versterken: publikatiedwang, de noodzaak om fondsen te werven en de ongebreidelde groei van de wetenschappelijke produktie.

Fiction

Hub van Wersch – Grijpen naar lucht (2019)

The story concerns competition for a tenured professorship and breaches of research integrity in anthropology. The background narrative is the fascinating history of the biggest strike ever: more than 250,000 textile workers in Mumbai refused to work for 18 months. It was unsuccessful and it ended the industry locally. Academic intrigue and animosity between colleagues active in the same field of inquiry are the heart of the story that is spelled out with many recognisable details. For those who are not active in the field of anthropology the book might confirm the impression that this academic discipline has strong similarities to investigational journalism.

The main character stumbles over information that his competitor for the chair may advise his students to engage in data fabrication and has committed plagiarism. The plot consists of an entertaining mix of complications of conducting research in India, attempts to influence the decision on the tenured chair, and instances of adultery. Time pressure, sloppy data management and a crashed computer lead to a fabricated research report. Now both competitors have engaged in research misconduct. This turbulent novel illustrates how dilemmas in both academic and personal life can be mishandled under the influence of external pressures and internal character flaws connected to an oversized ego.
 
Helene Uri – De Besten Onder Ons (2011)

A sad epic about a university institute of linguistics. About vanity, gossip and back-biting. And about the sexual determinants behind its main protagonists’ dubious behaviour. Thanks to intellectual theft, an ambitious young researcher quickly gains renown in her field. Using all her guile, she secures the assistance of a colleague to complete the stolen work and unknowingly ensures that the real originator of the ideas is herself accused of plagiarism and so loses her job.

In a shocking manner, Uri reveals how little scientists understand their own motivations and those of others. Testosterone-fuelled naïveté can do little in the face of unscrupulous strategic planning. Equally as shocking as an example of how incompetently suspected breaches of scientific integrity are often dealt with: by accepting opinions and misgivings rather than investigating the facts thoroughly. In this case with a career wrongfully destroyed as its end result.

Ian McEwan – Solar (Dutch translation) (2010)

A Nobel Prize winner with a number of disturbing character flaws is put in charge of a prestigious sustainable energy project. By chance, he comes into possession of an important discovery made by a younger colleague who has died. He is unable to resist the temptation to present this as his own idea, and thus fulfil the high expectations the world has of him – and he has of himself. But the deceit comes out and plenty more goes wrong in his personal and professional life.

By exaggerating an oversized ego and the chances of achieving success through deception, McEwan provides the reader with a humorous insight into the dilemmas at work on the knife-edge between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in science. Everything is so absurd and unrealistic that it seems to be a made-up story. Which it is, of course, until you start to realize that the plot has disturbing parallels with a number of real cases that have come to light in recent years.

Miquel Bulnes – Lab (2006)

A sad and hilarious account of daily life in a lab. The story shows how personality flaws and external pressure can lead to sloppy science and results that are not replicable. The main character is a PhD student in the rush hour of life, trying to sort out how to survive in biomedical research and which course to steer with his girlfriend. The rest of the cast consists of a narcissistic and overambitious head of department and various alarmingly recognizable colleagues. Things go wrong when a letter to the editor suggests research misconduct in a paper of the PhD student with a bunch of honorary coauthors. In the turbulence that follows some of the uglier characters grasp the opportunity to shift the power balance in their advantage.

Zadie Smith – On Beauty (2005)

A sparkling epic on the rivalry between two families whose fathers and daughters are both, respectively, tutors and students at the same New England college. The two fathers are engaged in a long war of attrition about the works of Rembrandt. Family A is black, conservative, Christian and comes from London, but its intimidatingly attractive teenage daughter carves a trail of destruction in her amorous adventures with both the son from family B and his father, a white butcher’s son, also from London, married to a black woman from the American South.

The storyline is both tragic and comic, the dialogues superb and sometimes quotable for the way they perfectly encapsulate the disruptive influence of racist, conservative and liberal standpoints in the academic debate. But above all this book is about the turbulent rites of passage in life. The teenagers are desperate to break away from their parents and find their own identity, whilst the adults are finding it difficult to make the transition to a more reflective phase of life and to keep their relationship with their partner alive.

Harry Thompson – This Thing of Darkness (2005)

A novel about the young Charles Darwin as an amateur geologist joining the crew of the Beagle. The ship’s long journey takes him to Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, along the Chilean coast and finally to the Galapagos Islands. This is science in action in the age of the great voyages of discovery. Darwin’s blossoming friendship with the Beagle’s captain, Robert FitzRoy, and its later disintegration, is the main thread running through the book. Their debates are fascinating and reveal how personal character and social position can make their stamp on the scientific process.

The conflict between his religious view of the world and his observations meant that it was decades before Darwin dared to publish his theory of evolution. The turning point only came when he realized that another scientist was now on the same track. It is fascinating to read about the personal dilemmas behind the birth of perhaps of the most important scientific theory in history.

Stephen C. Carlson - The Gospel Hoax (2005)

“Secret Mark presents what appears to be a valuable, albeit fragmentary, witness to early Christian traditions, traditions that might shed light on Jesus’ most intimate behaviour. In this book, Stephen C Carlson uses state of the art science to demonstrate that Secret Mark was an elaborate hoax created by Morton Smith. Carlson’s discussion places Smith’s trick alongside many other hoaxes before probing the reasons why so many scholars have been taken in by it.”

Philip Roth – The Human Stain (2000)

A probing story about the fall of a professor of classics. After a long and successful term as dean, he returns to his old department to take up teaching again. Following a bizarre accusation of racism, it turns out that some of his colleagues have an old score to settle. Amidst all this turbulence, his wife dies and he decides to take early retirement. He begins an affair with a cleaner half his age and clashes with his children. Finally, the couple are killed in a car crash in which her ex-husband may have played a role.

This is a tragedy without winners, meticulously reconstructing how the main characters engage in destructive behaviour. The professor turns out to be a light-skinned African American who decided as young man to break with his family and go through life as white. The cleaner was abused by her stepfather and ended up marrying a Vietnam veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. The young head of department fled her dominant mother, a French aristocrat, only to find herself living out an alienated and embittered life at a second-rate US college. All in all, these personal histories paint a dismal picture of our time.

Pascal Mercier – Perlmann’s Zwijgen (Perlmanns Schweigen) (1995)

The heart-rending story of a renowned, prize-winning scientist who has lost touch with his subject. An invitational conference has been organized in his honour, at which he is to deliver the closing address himself. Much is expected of him, but despite working on his contribution for months he has so far been unable to put anything down on paper. However, it is too late to pull out now. He is unable to acknowledge his problem and admit that he is no longer on the front line of his discipline. Trapped by his own reputation, he finds himself engaged in a lonely struggle and increasingly panicking as the conference goes on.

This book reveals the tragedy of a scientist with his best work behind him, who has also missed his chance to move into a role more suited to his new situation. It also explores the harder aspects of meritocracy and the often huge egos of successful academics.

Han Voskuil – Het Bureau (Dutch) (1996-2000)

Seven substantial volumes following the career of a scientist who, despite his best efforts, ends up in charge of an academic institute. The task breaks him and he ends up entangled in his own fears and uncertainties. He can see that his staff are producing nothing of much use, but the only response he can come up with is to work harder and harder himself. The frank introspection with which the main character reviews his own shortcomings is both perceptive and ruthless.

A disturbingly recognizable epic about what – and how much – can go wrong with leadership in an academic environment, and at the same time a beautiful description of the evolution undergone by the humanities between the 1960s and the 1980s. Above all, though, it is the dialogues which make this cycle a masterpiece. There is also an excellent dramatization for Dutch radio, in 475 fifteen-minute episodes.

hoorspel 1/2

hoorspel 2/2

Carl Djerassi – Cantor’s Dilemma (1991)

Cantor has a brilliant theory about how cancer develops. His best research assistant is assigned to provide the experimental proof and succeeds, resulting in a quick publication in Nature. But other scientists are unable to replicate his findings. It turns out that the assistant had given nature a helping hand, and may well also have done so on two further occasions. Cantor no longer trusts him and so devises a second experiment which he carries out himself, alone, with success. He and his research assistant are jointly awarded the Nobel Prize. The director of another laboratory, which is only able to replicate the earlier experiment once the assistant starts working there, realizes what has happened and blackmails Cantor to secure a Nobel Prize nomination for himself.

Cantor’s dilemma is that he is no longer able to reveal the misconduct in the first experiment without losing face – and the Nobel Prize. Moreover, the results of the second experiment support his theory. Meanwhile, the research assistant blames himself for bowing to the enormous pressure he was under and wrestles with his undeserved honour. The story presents the dilemmas facing the main characters in a credible manner, and shows how ambition in a competitive scientific domain can result in “industrial accidents”. In an afterword, the author suggests that manipulating the data to fit the theory is a regular occurrence, typically preceding a paradigm shift of the kind described by Thomas Kuhn. Even the likes of Sir Isaac Newton and Gregor Mendel have been guilty of it.

John Kenneth Galbraith – A Tenured Professor (1990)

Thanks to his Index of Irrational Expectations, a Harvard professor is able to identify companies whose share price is either too high or too low due to excessive optimism or pessimism. Instead of publishing his findings, he uses his model to amass a vast fortune. As agreed with his wife, this wealth is used to fund good causes. For example, a campaign for more women in senior positions, chairs of Peace Studies at military academies and work to counter the huge corporate influence in the political process. By taking over a major company, “Specific Electrics”, the professor is even able to strike at the heart of the defense industry.

Naturally, all of this provokes a backlash. Not to mention accusations of insider trading and dubious political motives. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) become more and more intrusive in their interest. There are hearings on Capitol Hill and legal battles. The professor eventually throws in the towel and settles all the allegations against him, before going back to the study of refrigerator pricing, albeit as a very rich academic. A wonderful satire, written with restrained humour and plenty of inside information.

Saul Bellow – The Dean’s December (1982)

An investigative journalist becomes a university professor and dean, but comes under heavy criticism for recent articles about corruption in Chicago and the racial basis of social inequality in the United States. Then he openly takes sides in a controversial court case concerning the violent death of a white student. He is accused of racism, and the university authorities try to limit the damage to its reputation. When it becomes clear that the dean now intends to turn his attention to the destructive and widespread impact of lead poisoning, he comes under pressure to avoid another scandal.

This book highlights the difficulties of academic citizenship and shows how thin the line can be between objective criticism and ideologically motivated activism. Science is not value-free. The story is told from Cold War Romania, which the dean is visiting because his mother-in-law has reached the end of her life. That perspective creates a distance from the daily grind of the workplace, and also reveals how the individual’s behaviour is shaped by aspects of the society he lives in – a theme further developed by exploring the different ways in which the dean and his childhood friend from the white underclass, now a prominent newspaper columnist, look at the events of the story.

David Lodge – The Campus Trilogy (1975, 1984, 1988)

With its recurring characters, this trilogy provides a splendid depiction of academic developments in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, humorous in tone and full of acute observations. In the first book, Changing Places, a British literary scientist and an American colleague take part in an exchange programme. It is 1969 and students on both sides of the Atlantic are livening things up in their own way. Inevitably, the staff are affected, too. In drily comic fashion, Lodge illustrates the huge differences between universities in the old and new worlds, where both main characters have lost their anchors. Emergent feminism and changing intergenerational relationships play their part, too.

The theme of Small World is the international congress circuit, homing in on the way academics use this travelling circus to advance their own professional and more personal ambitions. And how those ambitions increasingly become intertwined. Meanwhile, a subplot raises the topic of plagiarism – in this case by a reviewer of a draft publication – and the inadequate response to it. But the main focus is the tension between romance and sexuality. Which, amongst the literary scientists of the 1970s, means a fierce debate on structuralism versus Freudian symbolism. Yet despite the weighty subject matter, this is an entertaining and, in parts, exciting book.

The final part of the trilogy, Nice Work, brings us to the 1980s. Here we discover the difference between businesses and universities, again through an exchange programme. When a tutor of feminist literary studies and the director of an engineering factory swap places, the cultural divide and mutual preconceptions bring turbulence to both their lives. The attempt to run universities along commercial lines casts a shadow forward into an age when even the humanities are expected to be entrepreneurial and to valorise their work. With all the benefits and drawbacks that brings.

Willem Frederik Hermans – Onder Professoren (1975)

A humorous portrait of Dutch university life in the 1970s, full of fanatical Marxists and Marcusians, the excrescences of democratization and egalitarian terror. A shocking sketch of stupid students, vain academics and imperious governors. All provincial to the bone. The main protagonist wins a Nobel Prize but is amazed to discover that the media are more interested in a student occupation of his laboratory, under the slogan “Boss in our own test tube”.

The details are very much of their time and place, but the characters are timeless and disturbingly recognizable. Hermans was a reader at Groningen for a while, and to some extent this novel is a product of his frustration and rancour with that experience. But this is also a majestic book containing some viciously realistic observations. The dialogues between the Nobel laureate and his wife very much resemble those between Maarten and Nicolien in Han Voskuil’s Het Bureau. That appeared more than a quarter of a century later but in part it, too, is a chronicle of the same era.

John Williams – Stoner (Dutch translation) (1965)

A farmer’s son goes to university to study agricultural sciences. But once there he becomes fascinated by linguistics, gains his doctorate in that subject and finds a job as a lecturer. Outgrowing his own family background along the way, he marries the wrong woman. At work he proves no match for his sophisticated colleagues and his career is unspectacular. But he believes in the importance of his subject and endears himself to his students. Those around him barely acknowledge that, however, and he leads a lonely life.

This book provides a revealing insight into the important role of intrinsic motivation in science. That can make people extraordinarily single-minded, to the extent that they sublimate their own interests. Which may appear admirable to outsiders, but can also foster behavioural characteristics bordering on the autistic.

Charles Percy Snow – The Search (1934)

A penetrating epic from the 1930s. Fascinated by science since childhood, the main character grows up to become a promising researcher. He puts his career before the love of his life. Nevertheless, a highly prestigious job slips out of his grasp when it is discovered that, in his haste to reveal his findings, he has unintentionally made a painful error. Disillusioned despite being entirely rehabilitated, he withdraws from science. When his great love’s far less talented husband secures a fantastic job thanks to deliberate falsification of data, he decides not to reveal the fraud.

Although written more than eighty years ago, this story still resonates with its depiction of the pressure to perform and the uncertainties scientists face in their professional and personal lives. Science is a profession practised by ordinary people striving for success, recognition, social status and a good income. But in a hard world in which only results count, the temptation to cut corners can be all too great. The protagonist’s doubts and anxieties will be depressingly familiar to many academics.

Sinclair Lewis – Arrowsmith (1925)

Martin Arrowsmith studies medicine in the twenties of the last century, but gets hooked to doing lab research. His role model and mentor is the German exile bacteriologist Max Gottlieb, from whom he learns the trade of rigorous experimentation. Martin gets less interested in becoming a physician and criticises medicine to be largely unscientific. His dilemma is that he wants to marry and has to face the fact that doctors earn much more than scientists.

Arrowsmith becomes a country physician and develops a passion for public health. He fails in both – mainly because he lacks the necessary political skills – and becomes a pathologist. He still does some scientific research and switches to being a fulltime scientist when Gottlieb offers the option. Martin almost is the first to descibe bacteriophages, but a French colleague publishes first. Then the plague strikes in the Caribean. Martin struggles with the conflict of interest between compassionate care and rigorous experimentation. His wife Leora dies from the plague and our hero falls apart. Martin gets more isolated and ends up as a weird scientist in the woods of Vermont.

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