The following are our Collaborative Science cases enhanced with our questions with answers.

»Annotated Case Studies«

Annotated Case Study 1: When Collaborators Disagree
Annotated Case Study 2: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

»Annotated Case Study 1: When Collaborators Disagree«

After three years of work, Susan McCloskey, Alberto Lopez, and a team of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows have developed a new kind of search-engine algorithm that they feel could compete head to head with either Google or Microsoft’s MSN. The two researchers are faculty members of the computer-science department at a major university, which has an aggressive technology-transfer department that supports the development and licensing of marketable patents. Because the technology was developed using federal funds at the university, intellectual-property law gives the university ownership of the patent, with licensing revenue shared among the university and the inventors.

The researchers, the staff of the technology-transfer office, and independent consultants all agree that the new algorithm has true potential and should be patented, licensed, and marketed. But the researchers disagree about the strategy to be employed. Dr. McCloskey and some of the student inventors feel that the technology should be licensed to a preexisting major company, such as Google or MSN, or another big firm that is trying to get into the search market. Dr. Lopez and the remaining students feel that he, Dr. McCloskey, and the students should be entrepreneurial and start a new company by licensing the technology from the university. The technology-transfer staff believes that Dr. McCloskey’s licensing approach to a big firm makes more economic sense than starting from scratch, but Dr. Lopez insists that all will ultimately benefit financially if they create a new company.

Fighting has erupted among Drs. Lopez and McCloskey and the technology-transfer office, with everyone threatening one another with lawyers and lawsuits. Legally, the university owns the technology and can “force” Dr. Lopez to go along with Dr. McCloskey and her approach, but it is reluctant to do so because it would like to have all parties happy when approaching a potential licensee.

»Annotated Case Study 2: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?«

Investigators in various social and behavioral sciences and in public health have been collaborating for about a year on an interdisciplinary project, across several institutions, to understand the causes of terrorism and to determine ways to prevent it. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has funded the research.

While all the investigators have been excited about working together on such an important topic, a few issues and problems with regard to the interdisciplinary collaboration are beginning to emerge.

One researcher, for example, had an opportunity to visit a foreign country and interview young people in a terrorist training camp using a tool developed by the investigators. He also decided to hire a local health worker to draw blood from the subjects to compare hormone levels with age-matched controls in the United States. Before he went away, though, he had not considered asking the young people for their consent to participate in the research project, since in his prior research he had relied on anonymous databases from which he extracted data and he had not had experience in getting consent.

After he returned home, other difficulties arose. When he discussed his findings with the five co-principal investigators at his institution, half of them thought that the research should be immediately published, while the others thought that the results should be given to the government in confidence, because of the timeliness and nature of what was found. But, even within the group of people wanting to publish, disputes arose concerning which journal the data should be sent to, with each person arguing for his or her own discipline’s peer-reviewed publication. Moreover, when a key collaborator at another institution heard about the findings indirectly, he felt slighted and angry that he hadn’t been asked to take part in the discussions.

Another issue creating controversy in the collaboration is who should be considered an author on a paper dealing with less controversial data. While some of the disciplines, such as political science, tend not to have more than one author on a paper, public-health research tends to include more people on a paper. Since the grant is expected to last another two years, the researchers are now grappling with ways to smooth out the problems.

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