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Suggested Citation:"Misconduct in Science." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, Second Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4917.
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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.

Suggested Citation:"Misconduct in Science." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, Second Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4917.
×

Within the scientific community, the effects of misconduct—in terms of lost time, forfeited recognition to others, and feelings of personal betrayal—can be devastating. Individuals, institutions, and even entire research fields can suffer grievous setbacks from instances of fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism even if they are only tangentially associated with the case.

When individuals have been accused of scientific misconduct in the past, the institutions responsible for responding to those accusations have taken a number of different approaches. In general, the most successful responses are those that clearly separate a preliminary investigation to gather information from a subsequent adjudication to judge guilt or innocence and issue sanctions if necessary. During the adjudication stage, the individual accused of misconduct has the right to various due process protections, such as reviewing the evidence gathered during the investigation and cross-examining witnesses.

In addition to falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism, other ethical transgressions directly associated with research can cause serious harm to individuals and institutions. Examples include cover-ups of misconduct in science, reprisals against whistleblowers, malicious allegations of misconduct in science, and violations of due process in handling complaints of misconduct in science. Policymakers and scientists have not decided whether such actions should be considered misconduct in science—and therefore subject to the same procedures and sanctions as falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism—or whether they should be

FABRICATION IN A GRANT APPLICATION

Don is a first-year graduate student applying to the National Science Foundation for a predoctoral fellowship. His work in a lab where he did a rotation project was later carried on successfully by others, and it appears that a manuscript will be prepared for publication by the end of the summer. However, the fellowship application deadline is June 1, and Don decides it would be advantageous to list a publication as "submitted." Without consulting the faculty member or other colleagues involved, Don makes up a title and author list for a "submitted" paper and cites it in his application.

After the application has been mailed, a lab member sees it and goes to the faculty member to ask about the "submitted" manuscript. Don admits to fabricating the submission of the paper but explains his actions by saying that he thought the practice was not uncommon in science.

The faculty members in Don's department demand that he withdraw his grant application and dismiss him from the graduate program. After leaving the university, Don applies for a master's degree, since he has fulfilled the course requirements. Although the department votes not to grant him a degree, the university administration does so because it is not stated in the university graduate bulletin that a student in Don's department must be in "good standing" to receive a degree. They fear that Don will bring suit against the university if the degree is denied. Likewise, nothing will appear in Don's university transcript regarding his dismissal.

  1. Do you agree with Don that scientists often exaggerate the publication status of their work in written materials?

  2. Do you think the department acted too harshly in dismissing Don from the graduate program?

  3. Do you believe that being in ''good standing" should be a prerequisite for obtaining an advanced degree in science? If Don later applied to a graduate program at another institution, does that institution have the right to know what happened?

Suggested Citation:"Misconduct in Science." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, Second Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4917.
×

investigated and adjudicated through different channels. Regulations adopted by the National Science Foundation and the Public Health Service define misconduct to include "other serious deviations from accepted research practices," in addition to falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism, leaving open the possibility that other actions could be considered misconduct in science. The problem with such language is that it could allow a scientist to be accused of misconduct for using novel or unorthodox research methods, even though such methods are sometimes needed to proceed in science. Federal officials respond by saying that this language is needed to prosecute ethical breaches that do not strictly fall into the categories of falsification, fabrication, or plagiarism and that no scientist has been accused of misconduct on the basis of using unorthodox research methods. This area of science policy is still evolving.

Another category of behaviors—including sexual or other forms of harassment, misuse of funds, gross negligence in a person's professional activities, tampering with the experiments of others or with instrumentation, and violations of government research regulations—are not necessarily associated with scientific conduct. Institutions need to discourage and respond to such behaviors. But these behaviors are subject to generally applicable legal and social penalties and should be dealt with using the same procedures that would be applied to anyone.

A CASE OF PLAGIARISM

May is a second-year graduate student preparing the written portion of her qualifying exam. She incorporates whole sentences and paragraphs verbatim from several published papers. She does not use quotation marks, but the sources are suggested by statements like "(see . . . for more details)." The faculty on the qualifying exam committee note inconsistencies in the writing styles of different paragraphs of the text and check the sources, uncovering May's plagiarism.

After discussion with the faculty, May's plagiarism is brought to the attention of the dean of the graduate school, whose responsibility it is to review such incidents. The graduate school regulations state that "plagiarism, that is, the failure in a dissertation, essay, or other written exercise to acknowledge ideas, research or language taken from others" is specifically prohibited. The dean expels May from the program with the stipulation that she can reapply for the next academic year.

  1. Is plagiarism like this a common practice?

  2. Are there circumstances that should have led to May's being forgiven for plagiarizing?

  3. Should May be allowed to reapply to the program?

RESPONDING TO VIOLATIONS OF ETHICAL STANDARDS

One of the most difficult situations that a researcher can encounter is to see or suspect that a colleague has violated the ethical standards of the research community. It is easy to find excuses to do nothing, but someone who has witnessed misconduct has an unmistakable obligation to act. At the most immediate level, misconduct can seriously obstruct or damage one's own research or the research of colleagues. More broadly, even a single case of misconduct can malign scientists and their institutions, result in the imposition of counterproductive regulations, and shake public confidence in the integrity of science.

To be sure, raising a concern about unethical conduct is rarely an easy thing to do. In some cases, anonymity is possible-but not always. Reprisals by the accused person and by skeptical colleagues have occurred in the past and have had serious consequences. Any allegation of misconduct is a very important charge that needs to be

Suggested Citation:"Misconduct in Science." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, Second Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4917.
×
Page16
Suggested Citation:"Misconduct in Science." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, Second Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4917.
×
Page17
Suggested Citation:"Misconduct in Science." Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. 1995. On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, Second Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4917.
×
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Since the first edition of On Being a Scientist was published in 1989, more than 200,000 copies have been distributed to graduate and undergraduate science students. Now this well-received booklet has been updated to incorporate the important developments in science ethics of the past 6 years and includes updated examples and material from the landmark volume Responsible Science (National Academy Press, 1992).

The revision reflects feedback from readers of the original version. In response to graduate students' requests, it offers several case studies in science ethics that pose provocative and realistic scenarios of ethical dilemmas and issues.

On Being a Scientist presents penetrating discussions of the social and historical context of science, the allocation of credit for discovery, the scientist's role in society, the issues revolving around publication, and many other aspects of scientific work. The booklet explores the inevitable conflicts that arise when the black and white areas of science meet the gray areas of human values and biases.

Written in a conversational style, this booklet will be of great interest to students entering scientific research, their instructors and mentors, and anyone interested in the role of scientific discovery in society.

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