Ethical Challenges

9. Scientific Integrity

Example 8

The Havasupi Indian tribe was disturbed about an increase in diabetes among tribe members. In 1989 the tribe agreed to participate in research to explore whether a genetic cause for the increase could be found. As part of the research, blood samples were taken and stored. Two years later, negative findings were published. The Havasupi were not aware that use of the samples continued for two decades for research on migration, schizophrenia and other topics. A lawsuit claimed that research was done that went against tribal cultural beliefs and teachings and the consent to use blood samples for analyses was for the diabetes research only. The geneticist claimed to have obtained permission to conduct other studies. The tribe prevailed, was awarded compensation, and the university was ordered to return the samples to the tribe. The case raises questions about the honesty of the researchers and whether the researchers took advantage of a vulnerable group. The tribal member who brought the lawsuit said: “I’m not against scientific research, I just want it to be done right. They used our blood for all these studies, people got degrees and grants, and they never asked our permission.” (Harmon, 2010).

This example describes a human subjects consent problem and also a perceived lack of integrity of the scientists.

Example 9

A junior scientist works with his group to prepare a grant application on which his boss is the Principal Investigator (PI). The application is funded. The junior scientist is shocked when his boss informs him that there is no role for him in the research and that he will not be supported by the grant. He alleges that the application showcased his ideas, methodological innovations and prior discoveries in the preliminary research section. He maintains that the application would not have been funded without his substantive contributions and alleges plagiarism on the part of the Principal Investigator. Is there substance to this allegation of scientific misconduct?

This junior scientist does not know that contributing to the preparation of a grant application does not obligate the Principal Investigator to support any or all the contributors. Whether or not there is plagiarism depends on whether the PI is found to present the work of others as his own or gives appropriate attribution and citations. There does seem to be a communications failure between the PI and junior scientists.