This video series is designed to help improve the ability of scientists, post-doctoral fellows, undergraduate and graduate students, administrators, and technicians to develop informed and well-reasoned responses to ethical issues that arise in scientific research.
Integrity in Scientific Research: Five Video Vignettes
It would be a mistake to assume that all, or even most, scientists, post-docs, students, and technicians arrive in the laboratory fully aware of the norms of science, the ethical requirements of research, or the regulations and policies that govern scientific research in the United States. (Anderson 2001, Report of the Committee on Academic Responsibility 1992.) Furthermore, many situations in which ethical concerns surface are complex. Skills for identifying and assessing such situations involve more than just knowing the facts. Hence, there is considerable agreement inside and outside the scientific community that "more attention must be given ... to the mechanisms that sustain and transmit the values that are associated with ethical scientific conduct, ... that appropriately designed educational programs can be extremely useful for students and faculty alike" because they "can explicitly raise issues that might otherwise be handled using implicit or incompletely articulated principles" (Alberts and Shine 1994, p. 1660).
There is evidence that ethics instruction can influence ethical reasoning (Garrod 1993; Bebeau and Thoma 1994). The videos and this Discussion and Resource Guide are designed to help improve the ability of scientists, post-doctoral fellows, undergraduate and graduate students, administrators, and technicians to develop informed and well-reasoned responses to ethical issues that arise in scientific research. These materials include five "trigger" videos, short dramatizations aimed at provoking discussion on a series of ethical issues confronting various participants in the research process, and this Discussion and Resource Guide. Among the topics addressed in the videos are:
- role and responsibilities of mentors and lab chiefs
- determination of authorship
- allocation of credit
- impact of legal rules on conduct of science
- data retention, selection, sharing, and reporting
- pressures in the research environment
- sloppiness in research
- scientific misconduct and institutional responses
- peer review
- animals in research
- intellectual property
- commingling of private and public funds for research
- privileged information
- responsibilities of collaborators
The videos are not intended to illustrate ideal behavior or to portray some characters as villains and others as heroes. Rather, they present realistic, concrete problems, but offer no closure to the dilemmas faced by the participants, thus making them ideal for stimulating discussion. Such open-ended scenarios can be especially valuable in revealing the complexity of the problems encountered, in illuminating and clarifying one's personal values and professional standards, and in demonstrating that reasonable people can have very different points of view about how the issues are defined and what constitutes the proper course of action. Although the scenarios draw mainly upon the life sciences for their details, most of the issues cut across a wide range of disciplines. The handling of data, the reporting of results, authorship and the allocation of credit, as well as other practices are matters of importance for all fields of research.
For each case, this Guide provides an abstract, a summary of key issues, a set of discussion questions, and definitions of key technical terms. A compilation of resources is also included for further reading or reference in preparing for the use of the videos as part of a broader educational effort. Both the videos and the Guide went through a rigorous review process. A project advisory committee comprised of bench scientists, research administrators, a historian of science, legal counsel, and a post-doctoral fellow assisted project staff in selecting the topics for the videos, in assessing the scripts for each video, and in reviewing the content of the Discussion and Resource Guide. Drafts of the scripts were circulated to the advisory committee for review, and the revised scripts were then tested on four focus groups. Each group was carefully selected to represent the type of audiences for which the videos are intended, including diverse training, professional, and ethnic backgrounds. During the two-hour sessions, each focus group listened to audio-tapes of two of the cases and were also given printed scripts. They were asked not only to assess the issues associated with the cases, but also to critique the scripts with respect to the realism of the situation described and dramatic effect, as well as language and style. All of the focus groups produced lively and useful discussion. Participants argued with each other as they expressed different points of view as to the nature of the issues involved and what course of action should be taken. Such varied reactions were not surprising since the issues fall within the gray areas. The comments led to further revisions of the scripts, and in the process validated the choice and portrayal of the issues for the videos.
Video 1 - Only a Bridge
This video highlights issues related to intellectual property, the disclosure of privileged information, sharing information among scientists, crediting the work of others, and the responsibilities of collaborators who encounter questionable conduct by a colleague.
Video 2 - Noah's Dilemma
This video explores the competitive pressures scientists experience to get the data "right" and to publish their findings, mentoring responsibilities, loyalty to and honesty with one's collaborators, and the selection and reporting of data and record keeping
Video 3 - Of Mice and Mendoza
This case focuses on issues related to the consequences of industrial support for the sharing of data and resources, the role of technology transfer, the effects of commingling public and private funds, and the stresses that scientists encounter in the face of conflicting professional values, legal obligations, and loyalty to colleagues.
Video 4 - Credit Where Credit is Due
This video touches on issues related to authorship practices, the allocation of credit, and the importance of maintaining laboratory notebooks.
Video 5 - The Whole Truth
Several issues are raised regarding the responsibilities and consequences of reporting suspected research misconduct, institutional responses to misconduct allegations, reporting deviations from research protocol, and the use of animals in research.
The videos are not designed to be used as a full course in research ethics, but rather as supplemental material in a dedicated course, a component of a training program, or as part of a lecture series intended to reach larger audiences. Scientific societies may use the videos at national or local meetings, where they could readily be shown to large or small audiences, and to make them available to their student chapters. And industrial or government laboratories could use the videos as part of their professional development programs.
The instructor or discussion leader performs a valuable role as a facilitator and resource for others, providing feedback and using the videos in conjunction with background readings and discussion of government policies and professional standards of conduct. In whatever setting the videos are shown, it is an opportunity to reassure participants that such issues can be openly discussed in the research environment. A set of discussion questions is included for each video; some are likely to be more useful than others depending on the flow of the discussion. Not every question is intended to be used for every discussion session. It might even be useful to begin with some general questions, such as "What ethical problems are highlighted in the video and what behaviors on the part of which individuals contributed to them?"
The cases portrayed in the videos typically involve several issues, challenging viewers to recognize ethical problems, define the nature of the ethical conflicts, and identify the values at stake. Dissecting a case encourages participants to reflect on and apply their own values and on how those values compare with others involved in the discussion, giving them an enriched appreciation for the diversity of views that may be brought to bear on such matters. Cases that realistically capture the complexity, uncertainty, and pressures that researchers encounter "can serve as reference points for individuals when they experience an analogous problem in their work" (Korenman and Shipp 1994, p. 2). A good case can also be helpful in illuminating the distinction between error in science and improper research practices.
Because the videos end without closure, viewers are encouraged to specify the issues, determine how they could be resolved, and give convincing reasons for their decisions. The ensuing discussions will usually help to reveal the complexity of the issues and the options available for solving them. Consensus may not be achieved, but viewers should gain confidence that they can make an informed decision when faced with an ethically challenging situation. It is important, therefore, that such discussions take place in a non-threatening environment. Exploring a case in a supportive setting, with ample feedback, is likely to encourage students or junior faculty members to discuss matters more openly than they might with an institutional officer or laboratory chief.
The videos can also be used to help viewers learn the appropriate conventions, standards, and rules for responsible research conduct. Instructors can introduce "external data" into the cases by referring, for example, to relevant government regulations, institutional policies, and professional standards. In this way viewers can learn the constraints under which researchers work as well as clarify the shared expectations and standards of conduct held by the scientific community and by the larger society that sanctions their research.
Finally, the videos can be a vehicle for exploring the role of personal responsibility in ethical decision-making as well as of social and institutional influences on individual moral choices. Research is conditioned and influenced at every stage by personal, professional, and social values. Scientists need to be sensitive to the possible introduction of values extraneous to their work that can distort the results or reporting of their research. It is also important to acknowledge the influence that social and institutional structures, such as a competitive grant system, can exert on a researcher's judgment and course of action. Yet it is equally important to disabuse people of the notion that "the system made them do it." We are all empowered with the capacity for making choices and an effective educational program should help individuals to assume personal responsibility for the choices they make in the conduct of research.
To request a VHS video set, please email us your order and include “SRHRL Publication” in the subject line. Please do not fax your orders. Payment for the videos can be made with a check or credit card. Payment must be received before your order will be shipped. The video sets cost $95.00 with $8.00 for shipping and handling. The set includes one discussion guide, however, additional copies may be purchased for $12.00 each. Please note that the videos are not available in DVD format.
Bruce, under pressure to have his grant renewed, is given information that he did not seek, but that slipped out during a social conversation with his old friend, Charlie. The information enables him to fill in a critical missing piece of a puzzle so that his research can go forward. His collaborators in the laboratory question the means by which he obtained the information, and challenge his use of it as well as his reluctance to attribute credit for the original discovery. But acknowledging how and from whom he obtained the original information might place Charlie's career at risk.
Issues for Discussion
The case raises several issues. One could focus on the importance of "first discovery" in science and what it means for a scientist's career, followed by a review of various mechanisms for protecting intellectual property in science. Discussion could then turn to how scientists reconcile the notion of intellectual property with the belief that openness and sharing are critical to the advancement of science. This could lead to an examination of the perceived advantages and disadvantages that scientists attach to the sharing of their data and findings. Related to this is the value of securing proper credit for one's work, including a discussion of the conventions in science for assigning credit. The responsibilities of scientists who serve as reviewers of grant applications (or manuscripts) can lead to a broader discussion of the role of peer review in science. Analysis of the case could also explore how collaborators, especially those of junior status, can or should act on their concerns about the behavior of senior personnel.
- What ethical issues are raised by Charlie's reference to Sam's grant application at a social function?
- What should scientists do if they inadvertently gain access to confidential, privileged information? Under what circumstances, if any, would it be proper to reveal or use such information? For the "good of science"? To avoid wasting resources? To protect the public health?
- Would it make any difference ethically if Bruce obtained his information from a third party to whom Sam had described his discovery?
- Would the ethical considerations in this scenario be any different if Bruce himself had been the reviewer of Sam's grant application? What are the responsibilities of scientists in peer review?
- What is your view of Bruce's belief that all discoveries should be shared? Does Sam bear some fault for not sharing his information with fellow researchers more promptly? What factors might influence a researcher's views on whether or not to share his/her data or findings with other scientists? How can sharing be reconciled with the notion of intellectual property?
- What do you think of Marion's suggestion that Sam be contacted for permission to use the information?
- Does the importance of assigning proper credit to the work of others differ according to whether the information first appeared in a grant application or in a manuscript intended for publication?
- What options does Sam have if Bruce proceeds to publish his work with (or without) crediting Sam's discovery?
- What, if anything, should Jose and Marion do in light of Bruce's plans to use Sam's findings in their own work? What alternatives are open to them? To whom might others in a similar situation go for advice at their institutions?
- What, if anything, should be done about Charlie's behavior? By whom?
Noah, a doctoral candidate, is under pressure from his mentor, Dr. Peacham, and colleagues to complete his part of a research project so that the group might submit their results for publication before their competitors. His colleagues have successfully obtained results that Peacham has anticipated, but Noah has achieved the expected result in his part of the project on only eight of his ten runs. During a hastily arranged dinner, Noah's girlfriend (who is clearly unhappy with the amount of time he is spending in the lab) suggests to him that it seems reasonable to simply omit the two runs that do not support the conclusion.
Issues for Discussion
Scientists frequently encounter the issue of what data to include when formulating conclusions and reporting their results. Selecting data to conform to anticipated results is very seductive to a pressured investigator, who wants to please his/her mentor and not hinder the work of collaborators. One could point out how common it is for a scientist to begin with a hypothesis that he/she intuitively believes to be true. And like the rest of us, researchers may find it difficult to distance themselves from their strongly held convictions. A researcher may, for example, stop collecting data prematurely because the observations conform to his/her expectations, whereas further data collection might reveal unexpected discrepancies. Of course, having a strong commitment to a position is not necessarily bad; it is appropriate to acknowledge that science requires a great deal of conviction and self-confidence to gather the intellectual and material resources needed to push ahead. But there is a fine line between conviction and obsession. Discussion could focus on the risks created when scientists permit values to introduce biases into their work that distort the results or reporting of their research. The pressures to publish and how they can affect relationships among collaborators are additional concerns raised by the video. Attention might also be given to the requirements of accurate record keeping and the place of a scientist's notebook in the laboratory. Finally, the case lends itself to a discussion of the role of mentors in promoting responsible research practices in the face of the increasing administrative and financial demands associated with directing a productive research program.
- If Noah were sure of why two of the dilutions were off - perhaps because he miscounted as a result of a distraction in the lab - would that justify his dropping them from his experiment? If a researcher believes that some data points are out of line for reasons unrelated to the experiment, such as errors introduced by sloppiness, wouldn't he/she be wasting time and resources to repeat the entire series of experiments?
- If Noah does drop the two outlying dilutions, should he bother informing his collaborators or Dr. Peacham? If they all agree to drop the data, should they mention it in their manuscript submitted for publication?
- Is it ever proper for a researcher to ignore or fail to report data if he/she considers it "bad" or "insignificant"? If not, what should be done with such data? Would it make a difference if the research focused on basic cell structure in animals or on the effects of different drug treatments on humans?
- What are the appropriate criteria for data selection?
- If Noah does report on only eight runs of the experiment, how will he be able to reconcile that with the full complement of data noted in his notebook? Should he alter his notebook to conform to the data he actually uses?
- What responsibilities does Dr. Peacham have as a mentor to Noah, Miranda, and Jeff? Is he sufficiently sensitive to the pressures that his trainees are experiencing? Is it appropriate for him to "test" those he supervises in order to see how they react under pressure?
- Is Isabelle sufficiently supportive of Noah? Should family and friends be expected to have a sound understanding of how science works?
Jim and Peggy, collaborators on a large, multi-site research project, meet face-to-face for the first time to review their progress and discuss future collaboration on the project, which is partially funded by a pharmaceutical company. Peggy mentions that she has not received a response to her request for several of Jim's knock-out mice. She acknowledges having received a transfer agreement from the company that would have permitted her to obtain the mice, but claims not to have signed it because of "all sorts of restrictions." Jim shares her frustration and promises to follow up with the company. A company executive, Harry Carter, reminds Jim of the firm's long-term support of his work and stresses how important it is for the company to retain control over its research investment in the highly competitive pharmaceutical industry. Peggy can have the mice when a signed transfer agreement is received. Later that evening, Jim informs Peggy of his meeting with Carter and admits that he simply can't hand the mice over to her. Peggy appears resigned to abandoning this part of her research protocol, when Jim offers her the mice along with the transfer agreement, and tells her she can submit it upon her return home, implying that the decision to do so would be up to her.
Issues for Discussion
With government funding of research growing tighter, scientists are increasingly seeking alternative sources of support, and for many the prospect of industrial funding is very appealing. This case provides an opportunity to discuss the effects of public or private funding on scientific research, on academic scientists, and on their students, including the importance of technology transfer, and how the source and nature of funding can affect the sharing of data and resources and the publication of results. Jim's apparent naivete about his relationship with the pharmaceutical company should stimulate discussion about the responsibilities of researchers to be informed about the terms of any agreement into which they enter and to be sensitive to its impact on collaborators who may not be a direct party to the agreement. Carter's insistence on a signed transfer agreement and Peggy's reluctance to sign it set the stage for a discussion of the increasing influence of legal rules on the conduct of science and on relationships between scientists. The conflict Jim experiences at the end is a good point at which to assess how researchers can reconcile differences among professional values, legal obligations, and loyalty to collaborators.
- What do you think of Jim's decision to offer Peggy the mice without receiving a signed transfer agreement in advance? What motivates his decision?
- Should Peggy accept the mice from Jim? Is she playing on Jim's sense of loyalty to her and the other collaborators to gain access to the mice? Is she under any legal or ethical obligation to return a signed transfer agreement? What might be the consequences for her or Jim if she uses the mice in her research but fails to sign a transfer agreement? Could the whole matter be resolved if Peggy spent the coming year at Jim's lab, using the mice there?
- What does the conversation between Jim and Harry Carter reveal about the respective missions of industry and universities? What are the appropriate roles of universities and industry in promoting the development of useful products from the research bench to the market place?
- How would you characterize Jim's plea for the unrestricted accessibility of data and research resources to all researchers? Idealistic? Naive? Public spirited?
- Is it reasonable for Mendoza, as the research sponsor, to exercise so much control over the availability of the mice? Should they be less restrictive? What other mechanisms are available to industrial firms for exercising control over their research tools and products?
- What are Jim's responsibilities to be familiar with the terms of his contractual agreement with Mendoza Pharmaceuticals? What is the role of his university in such matters? Is renegotiating the contract a viable option?
- What are some of the advantages and disadvantages for researchers in using industry versus government funding to support their work? Are these considerations the same for trainees or students?
- Can you think of any restrictions that either industry or government could impose that should prompt scientists to refuse their support?
- How would the thrust of this case be changed, if at all, if the research in which Jim and Peggy were involved was funded solely by the federal government?
After months of frustrating disappointments, Peter decides to leave the project. Soon afterwards, his partner, Harriet, looks back over a notebook and computer disk left behind by Aaron Kagan, a collaborator who had tutored Harriet in the early stages of the project and who left the lab some months earlier. In Kagan's notebook she finds a "missing step" that enables her to achieve the results that had been hypothesized. She presents a draft manuscript to her laboratory director, Dr. Harry Garnett, showing only the two of them as co-authors. Garnett is pleased with her achievement, but questions her choice of co-authors. Harriet is firm in her conviction that she has earned the authorship and is not prepared to share it with anyone but Garnett. She reminds him of how critical this publication will be to her hopes of securing a permanent research position.
Issues for Discussion
The case presents an opportunity to discuss the importance of publication in science, how it influences one's career, and how pressures to publish permeate research laboratories and affect relationships among scientists. How authorship is determined in a collaboration among several researchers is a critical issue in science, as is how otherwise to attribute credit. Discussion could identify a range of contributors and their contributions to a research project and then assess who deserves authorship, and for those who do not, how their contributions should be acknowledged. Differences in how various disciplines treat these matters could be pointed out. The scenario also highlights issues related to the maintenance and retention of notebooks by researchers in the laboratory, and who should have access to them. The "stick-um" note found in Kagan's notebook can prompt a discussion of sloppiness and possible misrepresentation in science. The role of laboratory directors and mentors in resolving authorship disputes is another matter that could be explored. In conversations with Pete and Harriet, Garnett acknowledges that it is important for researchers to "know when something is futile." The distinction between commitment and obsession is often a thin line and it might be useful to discuss what factors scientists should consider when deciding when to change directions or completely drop a particular line of research.
- Is Harriet's proposal that only she and Garnett be co-authors on the manuscript reasonable? If so, should she or Garnett be first author? Do ideas and the confirming empirical work deserve equal credit?
- Explain why Peter or Aaron deserves or does not deserve to be a co-author?
- When Peter decides to move to another lab, he telephones Harriet "first because you're my partner." What do you think of Harriet's failure to tell Peter of her discovery of the missing step?
- Garnett refers to the initial steps of the research taken in collaboration with Aaron Kagan as "so promising." When he suggests to Harriet that they call Kagan, she objects, noting that he "abandoned the project when he left" and that his papers "belong to the lab." Does either Harriet or Garnett have a responsibility to inform Aaron of their findings? What does she mean by her comment that Kagan's papers "belong to the lab"?
- How would you assess Garnett's responses to Harriet's views regarding Peter and Aaron as co-authors? Should he have been more assertive?
- What credit, if any, should Ivan receive for the replication experiments that he performed at Harriet's request?
- What can be inferred from Aaron's omission of a key step from the disk version of the protocol? How might one determine whether it was sloppiness or an intentional misrepresentation?
- What are appropriate criteria for determining authorship? Who should establish the criteria?
- How should disputes among authorship claims be resolved?
- Of what importance is the sequence of authors' names on a paper?
- What provisions are or should be available to acknowledge contributions from non-authors?
- There are several conversations among the researchers about knowing when the time has come to change directions in their research. How can a scientist "know" when that time has arrived?
Kevin, a researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Cornwall, has recently presented a very successful poster session on the effects of an experimental drug on animal behavior. But a more junior laboratory worker, Sandy, becomes concerned about what she believes are discrepancies between what Kevin has reported and what actually occurred during the research. With some hesitation, she voices her concerns to Cornwall, who appears noncommital. During an ensuing conversation between Cornwall and Kevin, a series of flashbacks are intertwined with Kevin's efforts to explain some discrepancies between his reporting of his research and what actually happened. Cornwall listens attentively, questioning Kevin periodically about details of the way he handled certain aspects of the experiments and cautioning him about some of his responses, but in the end still appears noncommittal about Sandy's allegations and Kevin's conduct of the research.
Issues for Discussion
One of the most vexing issues facing scientists and their institutions is how to deal with the possibility of research misconduct, including determining when misconduct has occurred and establishing procedures for reporting and investigating it. Sandy's decision to report her concerns to the laboratory director offers an opportunity to discuss the ambivalence and risks that scientists experience when considering whether to blow the whistle on colleagues, and Cornwall's reaction to her concerns is an occasion for exploring the role of mentors and laboratory chiefs when confronted with questionable research practices in their labs. Also relevant here are the roles of government regulations and institutional policies in dealing with scientific misconduct, and the guidelines those who organize scientific meetings have in place regarding the submission of abstracts and poster sessions. Another issue raised by this case is how changes in a research protocol should be handled in reporting one's findings. Discussion might also consider the ethics of justifying such changes in the face of anticipated results and pressures to publish. The functions that peer review can play in detecting research misconduct is another issue raised by the case. The use of laboratory animals as portrayed in the video should prompt discussion of the importance as well as limitations of animal research for improving human and animal health, and of the various government regulations and professional guidelines in place to promote the responsible use of animals by researchers.
- What do you think about Sandy's decision to inform Dr. Cornwall of her concerns about Kevin's poster? Do you think she might have acted differently if Cornwall and Kevin were co-authors of the poster? How much "evidence" is needed before a scientist should make allegations-informal or formal-of research misconduct?
- Was Dr. Cornwall's initial reaction to Sandy's concerns about Kevin's abstract appropriate? If not, elaborate on what else he might have said or done at that time. Do his later discussions with Kevin resolve the issue?
- Upon leaving Dr. Cornwall's office, Sandy appears dissatisfied with his response. What more can Sandy do to resolve the matter? Could she face any risks from blowing the whistle on Kevin? What might be the effects on Sandy, or others similarly situated, if nothing is done by Dr. Cornwall? Who can you talk to when you are uncomfortable with the data or analysis of a colleague or more senior person?
- In the end, it appears that the data support the conclusions Kevin reported. Should one have any concern, therefore, about Kevin's reporting of his results as he did in the poster? How should he handle the changes in his research protocol when submitting a paper for publication?
- In a laboratory such as the one in this case, who decides what data should go into a paper for publication? Into a poster for a scientific meeting?
- What do you think about Sandy's characterization of peer review? To what extent is peer review likely to identify the types of problems to which Sandy referred?
- What is your impression of Dr. Cornwall as a laboratory director? As a mentor?
- What responsibilities do scientists have when using animals in their research? Why is it important to manage the use of animals in research? How would you assess Kevin's treatment of the experimental animals? What mechanisms are in place at your institution and elsewhere to ensure that animals are used properly?
- How would the ethical considerations in this vignette change, if at all, if the work involved the effects of an experimental drug in humans rather than in rats?