Exploring the Compromise of Ethical Principles in Science
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EXPLORING THE COMPROMISE OF ETHICAL PRINCIPLES IN SCIENCE JAMES A. KNIGHT* In recent years, several major frauds by scientists have been disclosed. Many involved in research believe that the known cases of fraud represent only die tip of the iceberg and that an epidemic of unethical practices by investigators has afflicted the scientific community. Some of diese offenses have taken place at our most prestigious institutions and have ranged from reporting fraudulent or nonexistent data to reporting die data of others as one's own. Also, the practice ofsifting and shifting data to obtain the desired experimental results has been exposed and is believed to be widespread. Nonpersonal Factors That May Contribute to Fraud Fraud is complex, involving more dian individual or personal motivating factors. The institution or environment in which the research takes place contributes its own set of pressures and regulations, or it lacks regulations altogether. Furthermore, two investigator needs are relevant to the understanding of fraudulent behavior: to publish or perish (graphomania) and to be perceived as a creative and problem-solving investigator in a world of ever-shrinking funds for research support. Although diese factors are mosdy personal, they are strongly influenced by the institution. Focusing on the personalities of die persons involved illuminates only part of die picture; the institution is left untouched. Actually, scientists would prefer to account for fraud by blaming personal character. By doing so, they absolve die institution and confine the responsibility to particular persons. However, institution and investigator are not easily Paper presented at the Biomedical Ethics Roundtable, 83d Annual Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, New Orleans, Louisiana, March 9, 1983. ?Professor of psychiatry, School of Medicine, Louisiana State University, New Orleans, Louisiana 70112.© 1984 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 0031-5982/84/2703-0390$01.00 432 I James A. Knight ¦ Ethical Principles in Science separated. Is it reasonable to assume that a scientist can function independent of the values of his or her institution? competition for and access to the means of research The public often sees the scientist as a person responding to a call, a vocation, to live for science and be rewarded exclusively by the work itself. Often the scientist is commonly thought of as a lonely, isolated person who works in his or her laboratory while pursuing a great and elusive truth. This, however, is usually not the case. The scientist almost always pursues science in an institutional setting as a member ofa group. Because of this group identity, a common explanation as to why scientists cheat would be this: "Since one must publish to get grants, and promotion in many institutions hinges on the size ofgrants, publications and grants, radier than discovery, become the goals in the laboratory" [I]. The search for knowledge necessarily takes a backseat—or at least a sideseat—to grant getting. Yet, as Merton emphasized, "the institutional goal of science is the extension of certified knowledge" [2]. attitude of the public Anodier factor that must be considered is die public's attitude toward science and the scientist. Persons with scientific skills and training are expected to commit their lives to the cause of science as a "vocation," for which they are honored, whereas society is expected to commit large sums for the advancement of science. A mark of the exalted status assigned to science is the common assumption diat moral considerations ^—honesty, integrity, compassion, social responsibility, andjustice— may, when conflicts arise, give way to die objectives ofscientific research [3]. If this is true, die public may inadvertendy or unintentionally aid and abet the scientist in compromising personal or collective principles in his or her work. shared interest Suspicion about an investigator's honesty usually does not come from those who share his or her ideology, friendship, or interests. In such situations, the investigator merely confirms what the others want to believe [4]. Furthermore, incremental increases in deceit, cumulatively accepted or ignored but ultimately leading to fraud, may, by virtue of past acceptance or disregard, lead to acceptance of die fraud without question . Perspectives in Biology andMedicine, 27, 3 · Spring 1984 \ 433 extrinsic values In any discussion of motivation for fraud, die wider reaches ofsociety...


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