Ethics in Educational Research: A Comparative Analysis of Graduate Student and Faculty Beliefs

By Artino, Anthony R., Jr.; Brown, Scott W. | College Student Journal, June 2009 | Go to article overview
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Ethics in Educational Research: A Comparative Analysis of Graduate Student and Faculty Beliefs


Artino, Anthony R., Jr., Brown, Scott W., College Student Journal


Now more than ever, graduate students and experienced researchers alike need to understand the professional and legal rules regarding the conduct of ethical research. The purpose of this study was to determine if there are differences in how graduate students and faculty" assess ethical dilemmas in the field of educational research. Graduate students (n = 84) and faculty (n = 38) completed an instrument consisting of nine ethical dilemmas, presented in vignettes. Participants were then asked to rate the extent to which they felt the behaviors depicted in the vignettes were unethical. Multivariate analysis of variance with follow-up tests revealed statistically significant differences for the mean ethics ratings of the two groups on two of the nine vignettes. In particular, graduate students reported lower mean ethics ratings (i.e., they felt the behavior depicted was more unethical; p < .05) for a vignette focusing on the practice of splitting a single dataset in an effort to publish multiple manuscripts from a single study. Conversely, graduate students reported higher mean ethics ratings (p < .001) for a vignette regarding a personal relationship between a professor and a graduate student. Effect sizes for the differences in the mean ethics ratings for the multiple manuscripts and inappropriate relationship vignettes were small (d = -.42) to moderate (d = .69), respectively (Cohen, 1988). Data were then analyzed using logistic regression, confirming the same two group differences in perceptions of ethical behaviors. Taken together, findings from this study suggest that although graduate students and faculty appear to be similar in how they assess ethically questionable research behaviors, important differences do exist. Implications for ethics training in higher education are discussed.

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The entire scientific enterprise is built, in part, on the assumption of honest, ethical behavior on the part of its stewards-the scholars and scientists who develop, conduct, and review research (National Academy of Sciences, 1995; Sailor, 1997). However, troubling reports regarding ethical misconduct among "university presidents, faculty members in fields as diverse as history and the sciences, and biomedical researchers" (Langlais, 2006, 1) have been commonplace recently, sharing airtime in the media alongside tales of greedy business leaders and crooked politicians. For example, in one of the most egregious cases to date, a professor from South Korea's top university resigned in 2005 after it was discovered he had fabricated results in his stem cell research; results that were published in the highly prestigious journal, Science, and which had raised hopes of new cures for numerous, hard-to-treat diseases (Wade, 2005).

Problems with irresponsible professional conduct and unethical behavior in the sciences are not limited to biomedical research. In a survey of 3,247 early- and mid-career scientists reported in the journal Nature, Martinson, Anderson, and de Vries (2005) found that one in three scientists admitted to committing at least one of 10 relatively serious acts of professional misconduct. For example, "15.5% said they had changed the design, methodology, or results of a study in response to pressure from a funding source; 12.5% admitted to overlooking others' use of flawed data; and 7.6% said they had circumvented minor aspects of requirements regarding the use of human subjects" (Wadman, 2005, p. 718). Although the majority of the misbehaviors reported in the survey were not as serious as fraud, their collective effect on the scientific enterprise may be no less destructive (Martinson et al., 2005; Wadman, 2005).

Considering these alarming examples of professional misconduct and unethical research behavior, it has become clear that institutions of higher education have a critical responsibility for providing their students and faculty with advanced training in ethical obligations and professional standards (Langlais, 2006).

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