National Academies Press: OpenBook

On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research: Third Edition (2009)

Chapter: Responding to Suspected Violations of Professional Standards

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Suggested Citation:"Responding to Suspected Violations of Professional Standards." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2009. On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research: Third Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12192.
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Page 19
Suggested Citation:"Responding to Suspected Violations of Professional Standards." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2009. On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research: Third Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12192.
×
Page 20
Suggested Citation:"Responding to Suspected Violations of Professional Standards." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2009. On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research: Third Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12192.
×
Page 21
Suggested Citation:"Responding to Suspected Violations of Professional Standards." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2009. On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research: Third Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12192.
×
Page 22
Suggested Citation:"Responding to Suspected Violations of Professional Standards." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2009. On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research: Third Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12192.
×
Page 23

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R e s e a r c h M i s c o n d u c t 19 Responding to Suspected Violations of Professional Standards Science is largely a self-regulating community. Though government regulates some aspects of research, the research community is the source of most of the standards and practices to which researchers are expected to adhere. Self-regulation ensures that decisions about professional conduct will be made by experienced and qualified peers. But for self-regulation to work, researchers must be willing to alert others when they suspect that a colleague has violated professional standards or disciplinary practices. To be sure, reporting that another researcher may have violated the standards of science is not easy. Anonymity is possible in some cases, but not always. Reprisals by the accused person and by skep- tical colleagues have occurred in the past, although laws prevent institutions and individuals from retaliating against those who report concerns in good faith. Allegations of irresponsible behavior can have serious consequences for all parties concerned. Despite these potential difficulties, someone who witnesses a colleague engaging in research misconduct has an unmistakable obligation to act. Research misconduct—particularly to fabrica- tion, falsification, and plagiarism—has the potential to weaken the self-regulation of science, shake public confidence in the integrity of science, and forfeit the potential benefits of research. The scien- tific community, society, and the personal integrity of individuals all emerge stronger from efforts to uphold the fundamental values on which science is based. All research institutions that receive federal funds must have policies and procedures in place to investigate and report research misconduct, and anyone who is aware of a potential act of misconduct must follow these policies and procedures. As noted in the previous section, institutions may define misconduct to include actions other

20 On Being a S c i e n t i s t than fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism; hence, the responses of institutions to allegations may vary. Scientists and their institutions should act to discourage ques- tionable research practices (QRPs) through a broad range of formal and informal methods in the research environment. They should also accept responsibility for determining which questionable research practices are serious enough to warrant institutional penalties. But the methods used by individual scientists and research institutions to address questionable research practices should be distinct from those for handling misconduct in science. In addition, different scientific fields may approach the task of defining QRPs in varying ways. For in- stance, in some fields the practice of salami publishing—deliberately dividing research results into the “least publishable units” to increase the count of one’s publications—is seen as more questionable than in other fields. The circumstances surrounding potential violations of scientific standards are so varied that it is impossible to lay out a checklist of what should be done. Suspicions are best raised in the form of ques- tions rather than allegations. Expressing concern about a situation or asking for clarification generally works better than making charges. When questioning the actions of others, it is important to remain objective, fair, and unemotional. In some cases, it may be possible to talk with the person suspected of violating standards—perhaps the suspicion arose through a misunderstanding. But such discussions often are not possible or do not have a satisfactory outcome. Another possibility is to discuss the situation with a good friend or trusted adviser. The possible consequences of this option need to be thoroughly considered in advance. Concerns about misconduct generally should be kept confidential, so a friend or adviser needs to be able to ensure confidentiality or to be honest about when confi- dentiality cannot be ensured. Sometimes the broad outlines of a case can be discussed without revealing details.

Responding t o S u s p e c t e d V i o l a t i o n s 21 Treatment of Misconduct by a Journal The emergence of embryonic stem cell cloning through somatic cell nuclear transfer as a “hot field” in the 1995–2005 period created pres- sures on all scientists to be first to achieve breakthroughs. The birth of Dolly the sheep at the Roslin Institute in Scotland in 1996 had a massive impact: the theoretical had happened and was visible. The race to clone other mammals, including humans, was seen by many as the potential capstone of a career. In August 2005, a team at Seoul National University led by Hwang Woo-Suk reported in the pages of Nature the cloning of a dog, long con- sidered to be much too complex to achieve, and Snuppy the dog became a symbol of the emergence of world-class stem cell research in Korea. The research team had been working in parallel on a project to create a stem cell line from a cloned human blastocyst, which was reported first in papers in Science in 2004 and 2005, stunning the scientific community worldwide. Within weeks of the second paper appearing in print, skepticism arose about the claims made in the paper, particularly about the source and number of the oocytes used in the experiments. As an investigation looked into the research, more aspects unraveled, including the validity of the claimed data. By January 2006, the university’s investigative team had determined that the papers were largely fraudulent, had to be with- drawn, and Hwang was prosecuted for the misuse of research funds. At Science, an editorial retraction was published: “Because the final report of the SNU investigation indicated that a significant amount of the data presented in both papers is fabricated, the editors of Science feel that an immediate and unconditional retraction of both papers is needed. We therefore retract these two papers and advise the scientific community that the results reported in them are deemed to be invalid.” From the point of view of scientists working in the field of stem cell biology, it was an enormous setback. The Science editorial made clear the waste of resources: “Science regrets the time that the peer reviewers and others spent evaluating these papers as well as the time and resources that the scientific community may have spent trying to replicate these results.”a They effectively lost several years of work in assuming the validity of the published articles. The public’s faith in the field was shaken, with conse- quences for the support of stem cell research that earlier existed. An in- dependent review of the editorial procedures at Science provided insights into needed changes—new rules to ensure the authenticity of images, identification of the specific contribution of each author, undertaking a “risk assessment” on papers that might be more prone to fraud. a Kennedy, D. “Editorial Retraction” Science 31 (2006):335.

22 On Being a S c i e n t i s t A Career in the Balance Peter was just months away from finishing his Ph.D. dissertation when he realized that something was seriously amiss with the work of a fellow graduate student, Jimmy. Peter was convinced that Jimmy was not actually making the measurements he claimed to be making. They shared the same lab, but Jimmy rarely seemed to be there. Sometimes Peter saw research materials thrown away unopened. The results Jimmy was turning in to their common thesis adviser seemed too clean to be real. Peter knew that he would soon need to ask his thesis adviser for a let- ter of recommendation for faculty and postdoctoral positions. If he raised the issue with his adviser now, he was sure that it would affect the letter of recommendation. Jimmy was a favorite of his adviser, who had often helped Jimmy before when his project ran into problems. Yet Peter also knew that if he waited to raise the issue, the question would inevitably arise as to when he first suspected problems. Both Peter and his thesis adviser were using Jimmy’s results in their own research. If Jimmy’s data were inaccurate, they both needed to know as soon as possible. 1. What kind of evidence should Peter have to be able to go to his adviser? 2. Should Peter first try to talk with Jimmy, with his adviser, or with someone else entirely? 3. What other resources can Peter turn to for information that could help him decide what to do? Major federal agencies have instituted policies requiring that research institutions designate an official, usually called the research integrity officer, who is available to discuss situations involving sus- pected misconduct. Some institutions have several such designated officials so that complainants can go to a person with whom they feel comfortable. Someone in a position to report a suspected violation of profes- sional standards must clearly understand the standard in question and the evidence bearing on the case. He or she should think about the interests of everyone involved and ask what might be the possible re-

Responding t o S u s p e c t e d V i o l a t i o n s 23 sponses of those individuals. It also is important to examine carefully one’s own motivations and biases, since others inevitably will do so. Institutional policies generally divide investigations of suspected misconduct into an initial inquiry to gather information and a formal investigation to reach conclusions and decide on responses. These procedures are designed to take into account fairness for the accused, protection for the accuser, and coordination with funding agencies. A model for this process can be seen in the guidelines set by the Depart- ment of Health and Human Services Office of Research Integrity.

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The scientific research enterprise is built on a foundation of trust. Scientists trust that the results reported by others are valid. Society trusts that the results of research reflect an honest attempt by scientists to describe the world accurately and without bias. But this trust will endure only if the scientific community devotes itself to exemplifying and transmitting the values associated with ethical scientific conduct.

On Being a Scientist was designed to supplement the informal lessons in ethics provided by research supervisors and mentors. The book describes the ethical foundations of scientific practices and some of the personal and professional issues that researchers encounter in their work. It applies to all forms of research--whether in academic, industrial, or governmental settings-and to all scientific disciplines.

This third edition of On Being a Scientist reflects developments since the publication of the original edition in 1989 and a second edition in 1995. A continuing feature of this edition is the inclusion of a number of hypothetical scenarios offering guidance in thinking about and discussing these scenarios.

On Being a Scientist is aimed primarily at graduate students and beginning researchers, but its lessons apply to all scientists at all stages of their scientific careers.

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