INTEGRATING ETHICS INTO THE EDUCATION OF SCIENTISTS

The entire scientific community bears a responsibility for ensuring that the customs, traditions, and ethical standards that guide responsible research practices are systematically communicated to research scientists and trainees. As mentors, practicing scientists often impart these values to their students and associates, who thus can learn through direct guidance and also by example the customs of responsible research practice. But formal or explicit definition of standards governing the responsible conduct of research is infrequent.

Benefits of Education in Ethics

Although data reviewed in Chapter 4 indicate that young investigators or students are perhaps less likely than older researchers to engage in misconduct in science—in fact, many cases of misconduct have involved senior researchers—early education can be a primary means of instilling responsible practices. Studies in the literature on ethics education suggest that ethical development is not complete or fixed by the time students go to graduate school (Rest, 1988). Thus, although ethics education alone is unlikely to change individual moral character, teaching ethics in a professional setting can foster awareness and can reinforce the importance of actions that constitute appropriate behavior in the conduct of research.

For example, informal and formal discussions of genuine ethical problems that arise in the research environment—such as the allocation of credit for a collaborative effort that involves specialized contributions —can teach both students and faculty about the significance and consequences of alternate responses to difficult situations. Moreover, the public nature of educational discussions can create a climate that may discourage individuals from engaging in questionable practices, as students and colleagues examine the potential harm that such practices can cause. Regularly held graduate seminars, faculty colloquia, and informal discussions in the laboratory and the classroom can also provide opportunities to test perceptions of observed practices against the expected norms of science, can help all members of the research community to define and clarify the fundamental norms that guide research practice, can ameliorate misunderstandings that could escalate into unfounded accusations, and can stimulate open and frank consideration of conflicting values. Exploring a case of poor authorship practices in the context of a classroom discussion of questionable research practices, for example, might be less threatening to a



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement