responsibility for its contents. Thus, unless a footnote or the text of the paper explicitly assigns responsibility for different parts of the paper to different authors, the authors whose names appear on a paper must share responsibility for all of it.
ERROR AND NEGLIGENCE IN SCIENCE
Of all the traits which qualify a scientist for citizenship in the republic of science, I would put a sense of responsibility as a scientist at the very top. A scientist can be brilliant, imaginative, clever with his hands, profound, broad, narrow—but he is not much as a scientist unless he is responsible.
—ALVIN WEINBERG, "The Obligations of Citizenship in the Republic of Science," Minerva, 16:1-3, 1978
Scientific results are inherently provisional. Scientists can never prove conclusively that they have described some aspect of the natural or physical world with complete accuracy. In that sense all scientific results must be treated as susceptible to error.
Errors arising from human fallibility also occur in science. Scientists do not have limitless working time or access to unlimited resources. Even the most responsible scientist can make an honest mistake. When such errors are discovered, they should be acknowledged, preferably in the same journal in which the mistaken information was published. Scientists who make such acknowledgments promptly and openly are rarely condemned by colleagues.
Mistakes made through negligent work are treated more harshly. Haste, carelessness, inattention—any of a number of faults can lead to work that does not meet the standards demanded in science. If scientists cut corners for whatever reason, they are placing their reputation, the work of their colleagues, and the public's confidence in science at risk.
Some researchers may feel that the pressures on them are an inducement to haste at the expense of care. For example, they may believe that they have to do substandard work to compile a long list of publications and that this practice is
Paula, a young assistant professor, and two graduate students have been working on a series of related experiments for the past several years. During that time, the experiments have been written up in various posters, abstracts, and meeting presentations. Now it is time to write up the experiments for publication, but the students and Paula must first make an important decision. They could write a single paper with one first author that would describe the experiments in a comprehensive manner, or they could write a series of shorter, less complete papers so that each student could be a first author.
Paula favors the first option, arguing that a single publication in a more visible journal would better suit all of their purposes. Paula's students, on the other hand, strongly suggest that a series of papers be prepared. They argue that one paper encompassing all the results would be too long and complex and might damage their career opportunities because they would not be able to point to a paper on which they were first authors.
acceptable. Or they may be tempted to publish virtually the same research results in two different places or publish their results in "least publishable units"—papers that are just detailed enough to be published but do not give the full story of the research project described.
Sacrificing quality to such pressures can easily backfire. A lengthy list of publications cannot outweigh a reputation for shoddy research. Scientists with a reputation for publishing a work of dubious quality will generally find that all of their publications are viewed with skepticism by their colleagues. Reflecting the importance of quality, some institutions and federal agencies have recently adopted policies that limit the number of papers that will be considered when an individual is evaluated for appointment, promotion, or funding.
By introducing preventable errors into science, sloppy or negligent research can do great damage—even if the error is eventually uncovered and corrected. Though science is built on the idea of peer validation and acceptance, actual replication is selective. It is not practical (or necessary) to reconstruct all the observations and theoretical constructs that go into an investigation. Researchers have to trust that previous investigators performed the work as reported.
If that trust is misplaced and the previous results are inaccurate, the truth will likely emerge as problems arise in the ongoing investigation. But researchers can waste months or years of effort because of erroneous results, and public confidence in the integrity of science can be seriously undermined.
MISCONDUCT IN SCIENCE
Beyond honest errors and errors caused through negligence are a third category of errors: those that involve deception. Making up data or results (fabrication), changing or misreporting data or results (falsification), and using the ideas or words of another person without giving appropriate credit (plagiarism)—all strike at the heart of the values on which science is based. These acts of scientific misconduct not only undermine progress but the entire set of values on which the scientific enterprise rests. Anyone who engages in any of these practices is putting his or her scientific career at risk. Even infractions that may seem minor at the time can end up being severely punished.
The ethical transgressions discussed in earlier sections—such as misallocation of credit or errors arising from negligence—are matters that generally remain internal to the scientific community. Usually they are dealt with locally through the mechanisms of peer review, administrative action, and the system of appointments and evaluations in the research environment. But misconduct in science is unlikely to remain internal to the scientific community. Its consequences are too extreme: it can harm individuals outside of science (as when falsified results become the basis of a medical treatment), it squanders public funds, and it attracts the attention of those who would seek to criticize science. As a result, federal agencies, Congress, the media, and the courts can all get involved.