Ethics for and Responsibilities of Authors, Reviewers and Editors in Science

By Carraway, Leslie N. | The American Midland Naturalist, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Ethics for and Responsibilities of Authors, Reviewers and Editors in Science


Carraway, Leslie N., The American Midland Naturalist


Abstract.

Science is made of building blocks, that is, one piece of knowledge leads to or combines with another piece ad infinitum. Consequently, for the process of science to work, everyone involved must be able to count on everyone else to conduct their work in a straightforward manner involving no deception. As scientists, authors, reviewers and editors have the responsibility to the global scientific community to help train the next generation of scientists to recognize the differences between ethical and unethical behaviors. To assist in this process discussions are included of the obligations and limitations of authors, reviewers and editors. Also, included are discussions concerning usage of copyrighted materials, advocacy, coauthorship, conflicts of interest, publishing rights and responsibilities and characteristics of a good review. To assist understanding of these concepts, are a series of hypothetical Case Studies intended to allow students of science to consider, discuss and challenge their thinking related to the integrity of research and publishing in science.

Character is doing what is right when nobody's looking. Representative J. C. Watts, National Journal, 18 April 1998:869.

Introduction

Science is defined as the "accumulated and accepted knowledge that has been systematized and formulated with reference to the discovery of general truths or the operation of general laws," but it is also "a branch of study that is concerned with observation and classification of facts and especially with the establishment of verifiable general laws chiefly by induction and hypotheses" (Webster's Third New International Unabridged Dictionary) . These two definitions give the impression that science basically is stationary - that after a "law" or "truth" initially is established it never changes. However, as you read the scientific literature, you come to understand that science is an ever-evolving enterprise. As everything is open to question in science, what is considered a general truth or law or an accepted classification of facts at one point-in-time may not be so at some later point-in-time because of gains in knowledge. This means that no knowledge in science is "carved in stone." Further, what else could affect how a so-called general truth or law is viewed by scientists? Whether we want to admit it or not, we all are products of the societies and cultures in which we have lived. So, when we begin a scientific endeavor we take along a lot of "hidden baggage" of preconceived ideas and ways of viewing things.

For most of the past centuries in which scientific research has been conducted, world-wide communication within the scientific community was protracted. Long-distance telephone service, which is at best an awkward method of conveying new ideas, and e-mail communication have only a short history (Clark, 2007:305-308) . And, travel to gatherings of scientists to present new ideas or expansions of established ideas until recent decades was time-consuming and possibly hazardous. Many scientists working in isolation made remarkable discoveries for which they themselves may or may not have understood the ramifications or applications of their discovery. Also, a discovery may be so far advanced of the current state of knowledge that the scientific community may choose to ignore it, or simply decide that it is an utterly foolish idea that could not possibly be correct because, the idea brings too many entrenched ideas into question (Lindeman, 1942; Cook, 1977; Colborn et al., 1996:198-199; C. Woese as discussed in Friend, 2007). So, for most of the history of scientific research and development, unless a scientist was located in or near a large metropolitan area or was well known, it was difficult to disseminate knowledge. Commonly, a lesser known scientist would send a manuscript to a better known scientist asking him to present it at a meeting of scientists, or, would ask for assistance in having the manuscript published. …

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