Veteran Whistleblowers Advise Other Would-Be 'Ethical Resisters' To Carefully Weigh Personal Consequences Before Taking Action

A prominent committee of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) advises beginning researchers that, if they suspect a colleague of violating the ethical standards of the scientific community, they have "an unmistakable obligation to act"--that is, to blow the whistle on the misconduct. VINDICATED BUT . . . Carolyn Phinney won $1.246 million in court; however, she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and is now unemployed. Historically, however, many researchers who have tried to carry throu

Franklin Hoke
May 14, 1995

A prominent committee of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) advises beginning researchers that, if they suspect a colleague of violating the ethical standards of the scientific community, they have "an unmistakable obligation to act"--that is, to blow the whistle on the misconduct.


VINDICATED BUT . . . Carolyn Phinney won $1.246 million in court; however, she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and is now unemployed.
Historically, however, many researchers who have tried to carry through on this "obligation" have lost their careers, been ostracized by their fellow scientists, and suffered intimidation, defamation, and reprisal at the hands of their employing institutions. Some who have studied whistleblowing call the academy's advice--given in On Being A Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, recently revised by the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (Washington, National Academy Press, 1995)--facile, even irresponsible.

"That's a wonderful, ideal statement, but it's an unfortunate one, because it...

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