Ethical Challenges

9. Scientific Integrity

Reporting Misbehavior and Suspected Misconduct

Reporting observed or suspected misbehavior is a sensitive issue. Although there is an ethical obligation to report questionable behavior and scientific misconduct, there is rarely a good outcome for the accused or accuser. The person who reports a problem may be considered a troublemaker, may suffer reprisal, and may become ostracized in the work environment. Yet, failing to report can result in dissemination of false results on which therapies, future research, and/or policies may be based. It also undermines trust in science and science itself.

Example 13

A postdoctoral fellow comes into the office during the weekend to pick up something she forgot. She is surprised to see another postdoctoral fellow busy at work, apparently doing data analyses. They chat briefly and the postdoc explains he is there when things are quiet because he wants to finish a couple of papers and submit them to journals. She thinks nothing of the interaction but then realizes that she can’t recall what papers the postdoc was talking about. She cannot identify studies that are close to ready for publication. That week, at lab meeting, she asks the postdoc to discuss the papers he is finishing up. Others in the group look surprised and say they did not know he was ready to submit manuscripts. When the postdoc began talking about the papers, others said that they had not seen the data analyses and asked to see them. The results looked terrific – more supportive of the hypotheses than earlier analyses. The postdoc begins to wonder whether something fishy is going on. She discusses her concerns with her colleague later that afternoon. He vigorously denies any wrongdoing. She reviews the data and becomes more concerned.
What should she do?