Responsible Conduct of Research

By Adil E. Shamoo; David B. Resnik | Go to book overview
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5
Scientific Misconduct

In the 1980s and 1990s, well-publicized examples of scientific misconduct increased public concerns and stimulated responses from government, universities, and other research institutions. The result has been the formulation of policies and procedures that are designed to investigate, adjudicate, and prevent scientific misconduct. Some aspects of these deliberations are controversial, including even basic agreement on the definition of misconduct and appropriate forms of disciplinary action. Nevertheless, there is now a functioning system in place designed to deal with misconduct allegations, and efforts to prevent misconduct are increasing. This chapter discusses the definition of scientific misconduct as well as policies and procedures for reporting, investigating, and adjudicating misconduct.

Although breaches of scientific integrity have been part of our culture for many years, a book by two science journalists, William Broad and Nicholas Wade, Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science (1982, [1993]), played an important role in focusing public attention on research misconduct. The authors recounted both historical and current cases of scientific fraud and criticized the scientific community for its indifference to the problem.

The book challenged scientific icons. According to the evidence presented by the authors, Galileo made the data for falling objects better than they really were; Newton made his experimental results fit his theories better by fudging his predictions on the velocity of sound, the procession of equinoxes, and gravitational forces; Dalton cleaned up his data on the ratios of chemical reactions, which remain hard to duplicate; Mendel manipulated the heredity ratios on his experiment with peas; Millikan selectively reported oil drop data on his calculation of electronic charges; and even Pasteur was guilty of announcing his anthrax vaccine before he completed his experiments (Broad and Wade 1982 [1993], Geison 1978 [1995], Shamoo and Annau 1989).

Among the most famous historical examples of misconduct is the story of the “Piltdown Man.” In 1908, skull bones were found in Piltdown, a town not far from London. The bones were presented by a brilliant young curator as being thousands of years old and belonging to a person who had the characteristics of both monkey and man. It was sensational scientific news: here was the “missing link” to prove that man had evolved directly from apes. Fortyfive years later, however, some scholars concluded that the curator had pieced together contemporary skull bones from the two different species and had aged them chemically (Barbash 1996). At the time of the discovery, the curator's colleagues had accepted his findings without critical appraisal, largely because “the researchers [had] shaped reality to their heart's desire, protecting their theories, their careers, their reputations, all of which they lugged into the pit with them” (Blinderman 1986 p. 235).

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