How to Teach Research Ethics

Two scientists - neither bioethicists - describe the best course they've ever taught.

C. Neal Stewart, Jr., and J. Lannett Edwards
Feb 1, 2008

Both of us, independently, have been "victims" of research misconduct - plagiarism as well as fabricated data. One day, while venting about these experiences, we agreed to co-teach a very practical graduate course on research ethics: "Research Ethics for the Life Sciences." The hope was that we could ward off future problems for us, our profession, and, ultimately, society. Ethical misconduct is a big crisis in science. No longer are misdeeds buried in journals; they often make for international headlines.

Our dean and department heads were enthusiastic. They must have realized that while we were reminding them of a problem, we were also willing to step up and accept the challenge of making a difference.

Neither of us are ethicists, though that didn't seem to matter. At first blush, bioethics, a field unto itself, might be included in a research ethics course for graduate students. But, we had more than...