The perverse effects of competition on scientists' work and relationships

Melissa S. Anderson, Emily A. Ronning, Raymond De Vries, Brian C. Martinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

203 Scopus citations


Competition among scientists for funding, positions and prestige, among other things, is often seen as a salutary driving force in U.S. science. Its effects on scientists, their work and their relationships are seldom considered. Focus-group discussions with 51 mid- and early-career scientists, on which this study is based, reveal a dark side of competition in science. According to these scientists, competition contributes to strategic game-playing in science, a decline in free and open sharing of information and methods, sabotage of others' ability to use one's work, interference with peer-review processes, deformation of relationships, and careless or questionable research conduct. When competition is pervasive, such effects may jeopardize the progress, efficiency and integrity of science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)437-461
Number of pages25
JournalScience and Engineering Ethics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The aim of this study is to analyze the effects of competition as reported by scientists themselves. The analysis is based on data from focus-group discussions held as part of a national study on integrity in science. The study, ‘‘Work Strain, Career Course and Research Integrity,’’ was funded by a collaborative program between the federal Office of Research Integrity and the National Institutes of Health; the study was approved by the Institutional Review Boards of the HealthPartners Research Foundation and the University of Minnesota. It had two data-collection phases (focus groups and a national survey), and the present analysis is based on the focus groups.

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This research was supported by the Research on Research Integrity Program, a collaborative program between the Office of Research Integrity and the National Institutes of Health, grant #R01-NR08090. Raymond De Vries’ work was also supported by grant #K01-AT000054-01 (NIH, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine).


  • Competition
  • Ethics in science
  • Misconduct
  • Research integrity


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