by Janis Costello Ingham, University of California, Santa Barbara and Jennifer Horner, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston
The four cases below are designed for your personal reflection or for seminar discussion. Each follows the same format: background facts, issue(s), legitimate expectations, consequences, and obligations.
The purpose of this supplement to TheASHA Leader article on the responsible conduct of research by Ingham and Horner ([2004, March 16]. Ethics and research. The ASHA Leader, pp. 10–11, 24.) is to engage audiologists and speech-language pathologists in a dialogue about the responsible conduct of research within our professions. We encourage all readers to explore the reading list provided below. The piece by Ingham and Horner stems from an NIH-funded research project for which Sharon Moss serves as principal investigator ("Research Integrity in ASHA: Education and Publication").
After providing a few salient facts, each case identifies an "issue;" the "legitimate expectations" of individuals or agencies, or, by implication, the public at large who might be directly or indirectly affected by the conduct in the scenario; and some of the "consequences" of the hypothetical ethics quandaries. The last paragraph in each case, entitled "obligations," offers reasons why the conduct at issue entails moral concerns. These scenarios have been inspired by real cases or by literature on specific research ethics topics.
The cases presented are "thin." This means that we have provided only brief summaries of fictionalized factual scenarios for the purposes of illustration. In actuality, ethics issues are complex, and they pose real problems. They are complex because they require an analysis of values and a balancing of benefits and harms. Ethics is not "black-or-white"; rather, it requires an analysis of information and reasoning about the values at stake.
As you read the cases, consider as many sides of the argument as you can, and, most importantly, consider the moral obligations involved as well as the foreseeableconsequences of the ethically suspect conduct.
For instruction on the topic of moral reasoning that has informed the structure of these hypothetical cases, we recommend the work by Bebeau and colleagues, Indiana University, titled Moral Reasoning in Scientific Research (1995). For introductory books on the topic of research ethics, see especially Elliott and Stern (1997), Penslar (1995), Resnik (1998), and Shamoo and Resnik (2003). For a discussion of plagiarism, see Dartmouth College’s online publication Sources (1998). For full bibliographic references, see the reading list below. In each hypothetical vignette, explore the issues raised in the case. How serious is the problem that arose? Do you think the problem should prevent the scientist from pursuing a successful academic career? Why or why not?
CASE NO. 1: KARRIE—SCIENTIFIC MISCONDUCT/MENTOR-TRAINEE RESPONSIBILITIES
Karrie was an intelligent, ambitious young graduate student researcher. She chose her doctoral program on the basis of the reputation of one of the lead researchers in the discipline. She was thrilled to be accepted by her mentor and believed she was well on her way to a full-fledged academic career. As soon as she arrived at the university, she became involved in one of her mentor’s research projects. As a research assistant in her mentor’s lab, Karrie was responsible for monitoring and collating data generated from an online survey. Because she was involved in several academic courses and had a part-time job outside of school, Karrie found herself under extreme deadline pressure. With time running out, she filled out a number of online survey forms herself and added these results to the master database. When Karrie’s mentor later discovered that these data were fabricated, Karrie asserted that the mentor had never told her about scientific misconduct or principles of the responsible conduct of research.
- Issues: 1) Mentors have a responsibility to educate trainees about scientific misconduct; 2) Students can avoid responsibility for ethical lapses merely because they have not received direct instruction in the "responsible conduct of research."
- Legitimate expectations: 1) Students expect mentors to discuss research ethics issues, to explain the expectations of the scientific community and the public regarding research integrity, to provide opportunities to discuss the consequences of ethics lapses, and to articulate the obligations of all persons involved in the research process; 2) Mentors expect students to know the difference between right and wrong (honesty and dishonesty), whether or not they know the technical definition of "scientific misconduct."
- Consequences: Students who falsify or fabricate data and then shirk responsibility for those acts, and research mentors who excuse such behavior, dilute one of the basic tenets of scientific integrity—truthfulness.
- Obligations: Students have an obligation to adhere to the norm of truthfulness in all aspects of academic work, whether or not explicit instruction in research ethics is provided, because truth-telling is part of "common morality" and pervades all aspects of communal life.
Case adapted from: Office of Research Integrity (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). (1999). Case Summaries, Karrie Recknor, University of Washington. ORI Newsletter, 8(1), 10.
CASE NO. 2: MARY—ADVERSE EVENT REPORTING
Mary, an associate professor, was becoming well established as a productive speech scientist. She worked in a high-pressure academic department in which the race for publications and grants was intense. Mary was building her reputation on studies of EMG biofeedback. One of her projects involved individuals with flaccid dysarthria acquired after experiencing brainstem strokes. A few of her research participants—those with sensorimotor impairment in the distribution of the Trigeminal nerve—experienced significant facial pain during the experimental procedure. Because all individuals had given their informed consent, she believed her work was ethically sound, so she did not report any adverse events in her published manuscript. Another researcher had a special interest in EMG and based his research on Mary’s work. Unfortunately, two of his research participants developed chronic facial pain. When this researcher looked back at Mary’s work, he could find no indication of this type of adverse reaction. He was stymied and disappointed by his results and the time and financial resources he had spent pursuing this research path. His granting agency was disappointed, too, and discontinued his funding.
- Issues: (1) Whether a researcher has an obligation to report unanticipated adverse events experienced by research participants; (2) Whether editors should require the reporting of adverse events in published articles.
- Legitimate expectations: 1) Scientists expect to be able to rely on published research—not only evidence regarding benefit, but also evidence regarding adverse events experienced by research participants; 2) Institutional review boards and granting agencies expect researchers to report all serious adverse events that occur during the course of a study, whether anticipated or not.
- Consequences: Researchers’ failure to report adverse events undermines the integrity of the research process and record. This failure has the potential to harm future research participants and patients, as well as the design of research studies that rely on published reports.
- Obligations: Researchers have obligations, both ethical and regulatory, to report all adverse events occurring during the course of research, whether anticipated or not. Failure to do so breaches the general principle of truthfulness.
Inspiration for this case: Kolata, G. (2001, July 20). U.S. suspends human research at Johns Hopkins after a death. The New York Times.
CASE NO. 3: WES—PEER REVIEW
Wes completed his dissertation and was beginning to apply for an academic position. He was an honest and energetic individual, who had benefited enormously from a close working relationship with his mentor. In anticipation of an assistant professor position, Wes submitted a grant to the National Institutes of Health in his specialty area, the genetics of hearing loss. Despite the fact that his grant was not funded, he continued to conduct small research projects and avidly read journals that addressed his special interest area. About a year after his disappointing submission to NIH, he read a research article that sounded very familiar. Upon closer review, he realized that someone on the grant review panel must have stolen his ideas and published them as her own. Disheartened and disillusioned, he gave up his dream of becoming a scientist.
- Issues: 1) Whether a grant applicant has a right to expect confidentiality in the peer review process; 2) Whether grant reviewers have a duty of nondisclosure regarding grant applications submitted to them.
- Legitimate expectations: 1) Researchers—including first-time grant applicants who submit grants to foundations, private corporations, and governmental agencies—expect their submissions to be treated confidentially; 2) All scholars expect to be given credit for their work; no one has a right to misappropriate the original work of another person.
- Consequences: Peer reviewers who misappropriate original ideas embodied in grant applications undermine the grant review process and potentially instill mistrust and cynicism among scientists.
- Obligations: Peer reviewers are obligated to honor the confidentiality of grant applications and to safeguard the original ideas embodied in grant applications. To allow peer reviewers to ignore the rule of confidentiality would effectively endorse unethical behaviors (such as misappropriation/theft, misrepresentation, fraud, plagiarism, and copyright infringement). Ultimately, disregard of confidentiality in the peer review process could mean the demise of the peer review process.
Inspiration for this case: Wesseley, S. (1998). Peer review of grant applications: What do we know? The Lancet, 352(9124), 301–305.
CASE NO. 4: MICHAEL—INFLATING THE RECORD
Michael, a doctoral student, was an aspiring language scientist. He worked in a laboratory in which the competition among graduate students was extreme, and students were required to submit their own NIH grant applications. In his application, Michael listed 11 manuscripts as "accepted" or "in press." All had been rejected for publication, but he fully expected that, with a few revisions, they would eventually published. A year later, Michael had received an NIH grant. He was ready to move on to an academic position. Coincidentally, one of the members of the search committee had been a reviewer on Michael’s successful NIH grant application. He wanted to share Michael’s publications with the search committee, but could not find them in MEDLINE or any other database. When he asked Michael for reprints, Michael stated they were still "in press." Unfortunately, Michael could not produce editors’ letters of acceptance, and the search committee ultimately declined to invite him for an interview.
- Issue: Whether manuscripts submitted for publication may be cited as "accepted" or "in press" in a grant application.
- Legitimate expectations: Readers (e.g., funding agencies, search committees) expect scientists’ curricula vitae to be accurate and truthful.
- Consequences: A grant applicant’s misrepresentation of his manuscripts as "accepted" or "in press" when they have been submitted for publication but not yet accepted, inflates the applicant’s credentials, undermines the competitive process, and misleads peer reviewers.
- Obligations: Students, faculty, and other researchers have a responsibility to be truthful in all aspects of their research and scholarly activities, including reporting their credentials and scholarly record accurately, because the peer review process and ultimately the integrity of the scholarly record of the discipline depend on honest reporting.
Case adapted from: Office of Research Integrity (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). (2001). Case Summaries, Michael K. Hartzer. ORI Newsletter, 9(2), 6.
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