3

THE NEW WORLD OF RESEARCH ETHICS: A PRELIMINARY MAP

This chapter's title promises a preliminary map of a new world. What's new about research ethics? Consider the Chicago Tribune of Sunday 19 March 1989, Section 4, the section that is supposed to provide a thoughtful perspective on the week's news: The front-page headline reads “Cheating in the lab”; the subhead, “Under pressure, some researchers break the law.” The accompanying article begins by reporting that one Stephen E. Breuning, Ph.D., had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment for fabricating research data and using the results to support his application for federal funding. After discussing a number of other cases of questionable research, the article notes that Rep. John Conyers suggested making it a federal crime to falsify any scientific research, no matter where it is done or by whom. Next to the headline is a cartoon showing a serpent in a chemical laboratory. For most researchers, the idea that wrongdoing among them could be widespread enough to provoke Congress into such legislation is as unfamiliar as it is frightening. The cartoon's serpent seems to represent both the scientists' loss of innocence and the intrusion of the world into the laboratory. That is the new world of my title.


Defining the subject

My title also speaks of “research ethics.” What do I mean by that? “Ethics” means here what it has meant in the preceding chapters: those morally-permissible standards of conduct every member of a particular group wants every other to follow even if everyone else's doing so would mean he would have to follow them too. Ethics (as I use the term) is only a part of morality, the part relative to a particular group's practice. Legal ethics applies only to lawyering; medical ethics, only to providing health care; and so on.

-45-

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