An ethical scenario was forwarded to the blog today with a request for the wisdom of the crowd. I can but oblige. The query has been lightly modified for anonymity purposed.

A member of my department informed me that a collaborator, another faculty member in our department, gave, without this person’s knowledge or permission, quantitities of unique compounds that synthesized by the lab to an investigator outside our university. That external researcher has recently published work based upon those compounds, and included in that paper an acknowledgement of the collaborator as the source of those materials.

The rest of the note indicates that the person who had synthesized the compounds was not informed by the departmental collaborator or the external investigator. This person only learned about it through a roundabout way that boiled down to “hey, have you seen this paper about this stuff you are working with?”
This is entirely simple, as depicted. Nowadays it is nearly impossible that an investigator would not know that anything sent to a collaborator external to the University requires a Materials Transfer Agreement. Everything. Compounds, reagents, mice, tissues. Everything.
Now true, many times people sort of overlook this for the small stuff. Or overlook it until something actually works out and it looks like a publication is ahead. But c’mon. How can you not know?
Furthermore, everyone knows that you don’t get to screw a collaborator and doing so in your own department is incredibly stupid. It will come out and you will look like a jerk. Particularly when you have failed to file the right MTA paperwork. And, depending on your University policies, you may be in a world of local hurt for letting intellectual property that belongs (formally speaking) to the University into a competing institution’s hands without protecting the intellectual property rights.
(Look, I don’t make the rules and I actually think they are bad for science. But the roots of this go back a long, long ways. Universities have a structural stance toward intellectual property that is highly corporate.)
My view is that the fault here is almost exclusively with the in-house collaborating investigator because s/he could have told the external collaborator that it was all coolio and conveniently neglected to mention that a third lab had actually made the compound in question. Maybe a *slight* possibility that the external collaborator had proceeded to publication without appropriate notification of the in-house collaborator who provided the (third lab’s) compound.
What do you think DearReader? Straightforward? or am I missing something?

We pay some degree of special attention to the doings of the University of California system because it is so huge when it comes to US NIH-funded biomedical research. Policies that exist at the UC campuses affect a large percentage of our target audience and for that matter, many of our colleagues and friends. There is also an assumption on my part that the very size of the UC means that it has an influential effect on policies across the US and maybe even worldwide.

The UAW recently announced that they had reached an agreement with the University of California system (provost confirmation) and about ~6,500 postdoctoral researchers/fellows represented by the UAW.

The UAW and the University of California today jointly announced that UC postdoctoral scholars voted to ratify their first union contract. The union announced that postdocs approved the contract by an overwhelming vote of 2588 to 121, or 96 percent in favor, in balloting that concluded Aug. 11. The postdocs’ union, Postdoctoral Researchers Organize/UAW, and UC reached a tentative agreement on July 31.

No word on whether hilarious Congressional threats to investigate UC uses of federal money had any effect on the process.

An overview of the agreement can be found in this pdf.

One main outcome of this initial agreement is to put the UC postdocs on the NIH NRSA salary scale as a default minimum ($37,740 / yr for new postdocs with less than a year’s experience at present). It seems to be phased in for existing postdocs and in immediate effect for any new hires.

There are also some points about benefits but since I’m not particularly familiar with existing UC postdoc benefit policies I’m not going to comment on that.

I’m viewing this settlement/agreement as a good first step. I’m on record as saying I favor the NIH / NRSA scale as a minimum for all postdoctoral fellows so this more or less ratifies my position.