Found on the Borjas blog this disturbing article about the use of research assistant in academia, and in particular in Economics and Law at Harvard. Or should I rather say overuse of research assistants, as they seem to be doing so much work that the author does not even know about it, but still signs it off without attribution.
This would be fine in a corporate environment, where "underlings" are rewarded through merit pay and promotions. In an academic environment, research assistant are poorly paid and merely acknowledged (if that). Well, they may also obtain recommendation letters. But the fact is that some faculty here seem to attract much more credit than warranted. This can be dangerous, witness the plagiarism cases related in the article, or the Fabrikant case.
From my own experience (not Harvard), research assistants are over-rated. Teaching them how to do things properly, coaching them through the work, and then checking their work, sometimes redoing everything, just seems to be a huge waste of time and effort. I just cannot believe the ethics of those that rely so much on their assistants, do not seem to check their work, and then do not even offer co-authorship. But anyway, on the occasion that I have research funding, I now prefer to give students a scholarship for writing their thesis without other pressures. This way, everyone is happier.