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Assessing whether a laboratory practice makes great science or an invitation to an ethics investigation is not always easy in the highly charged atmosphere of a research enterprise. Information doled out in small doses, without explanation or context, can prompt rank-and-file workers to fret that results are being skewed, or convince postdocs that their contributions have been deliberately overlooked.

"A lot of times people don't understand what's going on when they suspect, for example, data is being manipulated," says Daniel Vasgid, director of the Office for the Responsible Conduct of Research at Columbia University. "A lab worker may see something that does not look right, but it turns out to be a misunderstanding of the scientific process, not an ethical problem."

Sheldon Krimsky, a Tufts University policy professor generally considered a hard-liner when it comes to the ethics of science, agrees. The line between artful analysis...

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