Ethics in Science: Ethical Misconduct in Scientific Research
Just about every year, we hear about another case of ethical violations in some field of science. None of the many fields of science are immune from this betrayal. The reasons for these violations of scientific ethics are manifold, and a discussion of these reasons, along with discussions of what constitutes a violation of scientific ethics and how the scientific community detects them, is provided in Chapter 1. Certainly, one can argue that these issues cannot be resolved without instituting a formal moral code and that, because nearly every one of us has our own individual moral code, such initiations cannot be made. However, for science to survive, we must agree on a basic set of appropriate behavior, at least in principle. Indeed, an overwhelming majority of active and retired scientists have agreed upon and follow such a basic set of appropriate behaviors. Unfortunately, as with any portion of society, there are a few dissenters. These dissenters vary from those who feel the rules do not apply to them, to those who disagree with the rules, and even all the way to those who actively and consciously try to “beat the system.” Perhaps most troubling, however (only because this group’s actions could easily have been prevented), are the instances where the perpetrator honestly did not understand that his or her actions were a violation of scientific conduct. Other troubling cases (that are more difficult to address) are where the system actually facilitates, rather than inhibits, the violations.
Although this work considers the potential misconduct toward human or animal research subjects, it should be noted that it is not the intended spirit of this work to delve into a discussion of the “right” and “wrong” of issues such as human and animal testing, cloning, and stem cell research—though they will receive brief mention. These are deeply personal and, in many instances, religious issues, and I am not one to tell you how to feel about them. A discussion of these current issues, especially with respect to the government’s role in providing funding for such research and popular opposition, is in Chapter 5. Instead, it is the intended spirit of this book to focus on improper conduct within scientific research. In Chapter 8, various cases involving potential misconduct in science are presented. Every attempt has been made to adequately represent both sides of the issue when possible. This has not been done as an attempt to defend or justify the actions of the putative violator, but instead as an attempt to provide maximum insight into the issue so that something can truly be learned from each case. In each of these cases the year and location of the offense (or alleged offense) is provided, along with the names and claims of all of the principal players. If a resolution has been reached in the case, it is also provided. This format allows for several advantages. First, it allows the reader to observe how widespread, both in field and in geographic location, misconduct in science has been, demonstrating that nobody is immune. Ethical violations occur in every country, are committed by people of every race, and are committed (at least allegedly) by even the most famous of researchers. Second, it allows the reader to see all the sides and factors into the issue. This has the effect of giving a real firsthand look at why such ethical violations occur. Finally, when possible, the resolution allows the reader to see what happens to the offenders, to those negatively affected by the offense, and the whistle-blowers (the persons who call attention to the offense). Also, some of the cases are presented specifically because they are tremendously muddied and there has not yet been a resolution and with none on the horizon, either. It is the desired outcome that these latter cases, especially, stimulate discussion in the classroom.
If the cases of scientific misconduct where true ignorance is the cause can be reduced, progress will have been made. Such education is one of my goals here. It is also a major goal of the American Chemical Society, which has incorporated a section on science ethics into the third edition of the ACS Style Guide. Hopefully, the discussions that result from this book will enlighten students to what sorts of behaviors constitute scientific misconduct. An additional goal of my book is to show that science is in large part self-correcting and self-policing, and that it is truly not worth trying to get away with any sort of scientific misconduct.
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