Scientific Research and Ethics
There is a growing recognition among scientists, government officials, and research institutions that ethical conduct is an important part of research. Ethical conduct is important in research because science is a cooperative enterprise that takes place within a social context. Modern science can be viewed as a profession akin to medicine or law. Standards of conduct in research play a key role in advancing the goals of science; in promoting cooperation, collaboration, and trust among researchers; and in attaining the public's trust and support. This chapter discusses the importance of ethics in research, the nature of scientific professionalism, some important concepts, theories, and principles of ethics, a method for ethical decision making, some principles for ethical conduct in research, and the value of ethics education and ethical leadership in research.
Ethical problems, issues, and dilemmas occur for most people on a daily basis. Whenever we ask the question, “What should I do?” there is a good chance that an ethical issue or concern lurks in the background. In everyday life, such questions frequently arise as we make choices among different interests and commitments, such as career, family, community, church, society, prestige, and money. Professional researchers—scientists, engineers, and scholars— also frequently face ethical problems, issues, and dilemmas. Consider the following cases:
You are graduate student in pharmacology at a large university working under the direction of a senior researcher. You notice, on reading a paper on the pharmacology of a new serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which your senior director published in a top journal in your field, that there is a problem with the diagrams in the paper. You cannot seem to reconcile the diagrams with the published data. You approach her with this problem and she shrugs it off, saying that you do not understand the research well enough to make a judgment about it. What should you do?
You are a postdoctoral student in computer science working on some artificial intelligence programs for use in chemical manufacturing. Two other graduate students are working with you on the project, which is directed by a senior researcher. You have just received an e-mail from a research team at another university asking you for some preliminary data and designs related to your project. They are working on a similar project and said that they are interested in collaborating. It is likely that your research will have significant economic value and will result in patented products. What should you do?