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Ain't Misbehavin'?

By | June 1, 2006

<figcaption> Credit: © GETTY IMAGES</figcaption>
Credit: © GETTY IMAGES

Don't look now, but there's a good chance that someone misbehaved in your lab recently, or will soon. In a survey published in March in the premiere issue of the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, half of more than 3,000 NIH-funded scientists said they had failed to follow research grant rules in the past three years (http://caliber.ucpress.net/doi/pdfplus/10.1525/jer.2006.1.1.43).

While instances of serious infractions - such as falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism - were rarely reported, scientists more readily admitted to actions that they worried threatened the integrity of their work. In addition to not following grant rules (51.7%), this "normal misbehavior," as the authors call it, over the past three years included: deleting outlying data points (15.3%), inadequate record keeping (27.5%), cutting corners to complete a project (23.0%), and ignoring minor lab safety rules (36.1%).

Competition for research funding and pressure to produce and publish contribute to such misbehavior, according to the study's authors. "There's a culture of science that's emerged from the way science is organized, especially funding pressures and competition between scientists," says coauthor Raymond ?De Vries?, associate professor of medical education at the University of Michigan. "The pressure to succeed requires scientists to do things that they worry about," he says.

Ambiguity is part of the problem. "There is a lack of agreement on what constitutes appropriate behavior," explains Michelle Mello, associate professor of health policy and law at the Harvard School of Public Health. "There are gray areas where the practices within science may be widespread but out of step with what regulators or the public might think is appropriate conduct," she says.

Comments

Avatar of: Hugh Fletcher

Hugh Fletcher

Posts: 44

June 27, 2006

This should not be a surprise, it has always been so; scientists are humans under pressure to succeed. The scientific result is rarely changed, but when it is it can be disastrous, especially when it is sensational enough to get publicity or publication in top journals. Examples are the worst evidence against GM, and the incorrect link between meals-mumps-rubella vaccination and autism. Sometimes a branch of science is misled until consensus corrects it. More problematic are the cases of complete falsification. I only know from experience of two researchers who made a habit of that, but I don't know many scientists' work that well.
Avatar of: D Lee

D Lee

Posts: 3

June 27, 2006

Success more important than Truth? One might like to think that, in Science, Truth would be considered success, even if it did not provide a near-term financial return.\n\nBut, we're human. All too human. Despite all our scientific and technological advances, we still seem plagued with our insecurities, jealousies, fears, etc.. \n\nAnd, sadly, it often appears that cheaters prosper and are rarely held accountable. \n\nPerhaps the worst consequence of misbehavior is the corrosive distrust that it can sew amongst the rest of the scientific community.\n\n

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