Author(s): Michael S. Pritchard, Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University & Theodore Goldfarb, Department of Chemistry, State University of New York at Stony Brook
NOTE: This contribution appeared as a featured resource in the online and printed issues of ENC Focus: A Magazine for Classroom Innovators Vol. 8 no.3, published by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC.
Kenneth Abbott, Mepham High School, Bellmore, Long Island, NY.
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This is one of many ways to introduce the idea that honesty in conducting and reporting scientific research is fundamental both to good science and to the public interest. It is important to emphasize that what is at stake is not merely the reputation, and possibly the career, of scientists who get caught cheating, but the well-being of others. It is not just the well-being of the general public that can be seriously affected by the fabrication, falsification, or misrepresentation of data. As the case of Robert Sprague shows, those who report scientific misconduct may go through hardships. Although his wife was dying of cancer at the time, Sprague was so concerned about the fabrication of data he discovered, that he took on the responsibilities of a whistleblower. In fact, it was partly because of the realization that his wife's well-being depended on honest, reliable research regarding drugs and treatment that Sprague was motivated to act on behalf of others who are similarly dependent. Sprague's article, The Voice of Experience (Science and Engineering Ethics, Vol. 4, Issue 1, 1998, pp. 33-44), chronicles some of his experiences and those of other whistleblowers. Often it is not only those on whom the whistle is blown who challenge whistleblowers, but also institutions within which those accused work. Institutions also wish to preserve their public reputation as reliable. They may also find it difficult to accept the idea that one of their researchers has cheated, and they may feel accused of themselves failing to monitor carefully the work of the accused. In Sprague's case, he found that, even though he had submitted lengthy documentation of data fabrication at another institution, he was the first to be investigated; and it took several years for the case to be resolved. For a good account of another well-known fabrication case, see Case Study #1 in Chapter 4 of Section I. For an statements about the importance of integrity in science, see: Sigma Xi's booklet, Honor in Science (Research Triangle Park, NC, 1991); and the Commission on Research Integrity's report, Integrity and Misconduct in Research, 2nd ed. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1993).
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