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Caroline Whitbeck Elmer G. Beamer-Hubert H. Schneider Emerita Professor in Ethics Case Western Reserve University Case Western Reserve University More Posts
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The Missing Step
Secondary Title The Missing Step

Added09/10/2006

Author(s) Albert R. Meyer

A scenario meant to stimulate discussion about the ethical issues that arise when researchers discover a mistake in the data or method used in a paper already published.

Adapted from a scenario by Albert R. Meyer

Student A was delighted when, in his final year in grad school, a joint paper with his faculty thesis supervisor, Professor B, was accepted at a competitive symposium in Theoretical Computer Science. The paper sketched the proof of a conjecture in complexity theory which had been the subject of a half-dozen prior papers. Student A's presentation was heard favorably by experts at the symposium, and afterward Student A began the detailed write-up of the proof for inclusion in his thesis.

But now, midway through the write-up, he realizes he cannot prove an essential lemma which had earlier seemed routine to both him and Professor B. He tells Professor B, and after a couple of days' work they realize that they had overlooked a serious lacuna in the proof when they published their symposium paper.

Professor B says they are obligated to publish an erratum in the following year's symposium volume. The deadline for submissions to next year's volume has formally just passed, but Professor B thinks they can still squeeze the erratum in if they mail it promptly. Student A thinks that with a few more weeks to think about it, he might be able to fill the lacuna.

What are Professor B and Student A's responsibilities to report the gap in their proof?

If Professor B and Student A disagree about responding, how might they resolve this disagreement?

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Contributor(s) Caroline Whitbeck
Notes Caroline Whitbeck introduced methods and modules for discussing numerous issues in responsible conduct of research at a Sigma Xi Forum in 2000. Partial funding for the development of this material came from an NIH grant. You can find the entire sequence on the OEC at http://www.onlineethics.org/Resources/TeachingTools/Modules/19237.aspx. Some information in these historical modules may be out-of-date; for instance, there may be a new edition of the professional society’s code that is referred to in an item. If you have suggestions for updates, please contact the OEC.
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Rights For more information on permissions to use this material please see: http://onlineethics.org/permissions.aspx
Year 2000
Publisher National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center
Language English
Cite this page: "The Missing Step" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 9/10/2006 OEC Accessed: Sunday, December 11, 2016 <www.onlineethics.org/Resources/TeachingTools/Modules/19237/resethpages/missing.aspx>