RESPONDING TO VIOLATIONS OF ETHICAL STANDARDS



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RESPONDING TO VIOLATIONS OF ETHICAL STANDARDS



One of the most difficult situations that a researcher can encounter is to see or suspect that a colleague has violated the ethical standards of the research community. It is easy to find excuses to do nothing, but someone who has witnessed misconduct has an unmistakable obligation to act. At the most immediate level, misconduct can seriously obstruct or damage one’s own research or the research of colleagues. More broadly, even a single case of misconduct can malign scientists and their institutions, result in the imposition of counterproductive regulations, and shake public confidence in the integrity of science.

To be sure, raising a concern about unethical conduct is rarely an easy thing to do. In some cases, anonymity is possible - but not always. Reprisals by the accused person and by skeptical colleagues have occurred in the past and have had serious consequences. Any allegation of misconduct is a very important charge that needs to be taken seriously. If mishandled, an allegation can gravely damage the person charged, the one who makes the charge, the institutions involved, and science in general.

Someone who is confronting a problem involving research ethics usually has more options than are immediately apparent. In most cases the best thing to do is to discuss the situation with a trusted friend or advisor. In universities, faculty advisors, department chairs, and other senior faculty can be invaluable sources of advice in deciding whether to go forward with a complaint.

An important consideration is deciding when to put a complaint in writing. Once in writing, universities are obligated to deal with a complaint in a more formal manner than if it is made verbally. Putting a complaint in writing can have serious consequences for the career of a scientist and should be undertaken only after thorough consideration.

The National Science Foundation and Public Health Service of the USA require all research institutions that receive public funds to have procedures in place to deal with allegations of unethical practice. These procedures take into account fairness for the accused, protection for the accuser, coordination with funding agencies, and requirements for confidentiality and disclosure.

In addition, many universities and other research institutions have designated an ombudsman, ethics officer, or other official who is available to discuss situations involving research ethics. Such discussions are carried out in strictest confidence whenever possible. Some institutions provide for multiple entry points, so that complainants can go to a person with whom they feel comfortable.

Government agencies, including the National Science Foundation and Public Health Service, enforce laws and regulations that deal with misconduct in science. At the Public Health Service in Washington, D.C., complaints can be referred to the


Professional ethics



appropriate office through the Office of Research Integrity. At the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia, complaints can be directed to the Office of the Inspector General. Within universities, research grant officials can provide guidance on whether federal rules may be involved in filing a complaint.

Many institutions have prepared written materials that offer guidance in situations involving professional ethics. Volume II of Responsible Science: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 199З) reprints a number of these documents. Sigma Xi, a national society of research scientists headquartered in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., and other scientific and engineering professional organizations also are prepared to advise scientists who encounter cases of possible misconduct.

The research system exerts many pressures on beginning and experienced researchers alike. Principal investigators need to raise funds and attract students. Faculty members must balance the time spent on research with the time spent teaching undergraduates. Industrial sponsorship of research introduces the possibility of conflicts of interest.

All parts of the research system have a responsibility to recognize and respond to these pressures. Institutions must review their own policies, foster awareness of research ethics, and ensure that researchers are aware of the policies that are in place. And researchers should constantly be aware of the extent to which ethically based decisions will influence their success as scientists.

(Adapted from the Internet)

A CAREER IN THE BALANCE

Francine was just months away from finishing her Ph.D. dissertation when she realized that something was seriously amiss with the work of a fellow graduate student, Sylvia. Francine was convinced that Sylvia was not actually making the measurements she claimed to be rrtaking. They shared the same lab, but Sylvia rarely seemed to be there. Sometimes Francine saw research materials thrown away unopened. The results Sylvia was turning in to their common thesis advisor seemed too clean to be real.

Francine knew that she would soon need to ask her thesis advisor for a letter of recommendation for faculty and postdoc positions. If she raised the issue with her advisor now, she was sure that it would affect the letter of recommendation. Sylvia was a favourite of her advisor, who had often helped Sylvia before when her project ran into problems. Yet Francine also knew that if she waited to raise the issue the question would inevitably arise as to when she first suspected problems. Both Francine and her thesis advisor were using Sylvia’s results in their own research. If Sylvia’s results were inaccurate, they both needed to know as soon as possible.

1. Should Francine first try to talk with Sylvia, with her thesis advisor or with someone else?

2. Does she know enough to be able to raise concerns?



Unit 6


3. Where else can Francine go for information that could help her decide what to do?

Task 6.33. Write an essay of approximately 300 words on the environmental problems in your region, city, town or village.

Task 6.34. Read the texts and discuss them with your fellow students:

Text 1. KILLING FIELDS

Power lines, computers, radar, microwave ovens and electric blankets are sources of non-ionising electromagnetic radiation and threaten the health of the users.

It is a bit more than 100 years since electricity generation started, about 80 years since the beginning of public radio transmissions and 60 years since radar was first used. Since the 1950s we began to surround ourselves with significant amounts of electromagnetic energy.

When radar was first introduced in World War II, it was such an important factor in the Allied victory that few raised questions of its biological safety: safety standards were set high enough to allow the military virtually unrestricted use of microwave and high-frequency radiation. American scientific reports from that time, suggesting that microwave radiation might cause leukaemia, cataracts, brain tumours and heart disease, were ignored.

When maximum exposure levels were set in the 1950s, they were mainly based on how much external power could be dissipated on the surface of the human body without causing a significant rise in body temperature. The validity of these and subsequent safety standards across the electromagnetic spectrum is now being challenged, both within the scientific community and, increasingly, in the courts. This has been brought about by the considerable number of research reports linking low-level alternating electric and magnetic fields with a variety of serious health effects. Particularly worrying are the reports about the effects of 50 Hz and 60 Hz power-line fields, low-frequency pulsed radar systems and high-power ELF (extremely low frequency) communication systems. Here is a selection of some of the report conclusions:

The risk of dying from acute leukaemia is increased by 2.6 if you work in an electrical occupation, especially if you are a telecommunication engineer or radio amateur.


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Service personnel exposed to non-ionising radiation when compared with their unexposed colleagues were almost seven times as likely to develop cancer of the blood-forming organs and lymphatic tissue.

10 to 15 per cent of all childhood cancer cases might be attributable to power-frequency fields, found in their homes.

Clinical depression and suicides were closely linked with living near power lines. Nevertheless, some countries still allow to build houses directly under high-voltage distribution cables.

(Adaptedfrom “Electronics World + Wireless World”)

Text 2. SPACE LITTER

When the space shuttle Challenger returned to Earth with a cracked windshield in June 1983, engineers assumed the culprit (винуватець) was a micro-meteorite - a stray piece of cosmic dust that could have hit the windshield at 44,000 miles (71,600 kilometres) per hour. But after examining the fracture (трицина) pattern and trace elements in the crack, scientists concluded that whatever Challenger ran into was man-made.

The case of Challenger’s windshield illustrates a serious concern among people who put spacecraft into orbit. So much debris (уламки) litters the space lanes that it poses a major collision hazard. Experts suspect that space collisions have destroyed several satellites, all of which had been in good condition. If the debris keeps accumulating, the chances of collision are greater. Thousands of objects the size of a baseball or larger, each circling Earth at 17,500 miles per hour, are now being tracked in space. Some of them are operating satellites but others are old rockets, fuel tanks or remnants of previous explosions and collisions.

A more serious threat are objects the size of golf balls. Even the third category of space garbage - tiny orbiting flakes, estimated to number in the billions - is potentially hazardous. They are the prime suspect in the case of the shuttle windshield, which was the first proof engineers had that space debris was a growing problem. A more convincing case came when another astronaut crew returned to Earth with parts of the Solar Maximum satellite they repaired in the orbit. There were 160 small craters in the layered plastic insulation. Most of the holes found in the plastic had been punctured by man-made objects.

Much of the space debris came from satellites’ and second-stage engines’ explosions and catastrophic collisions that have occurred in Earth’s orbit. Besides, 1.2 billion metal needles were put into orbit by the US Air Force in 1962 and 1963 to see if radar signals could be bounced off them. The collisions and explosions have unfortunately taken place at fairly high altitudes, which means that most of the leftover debris will stay in orbit instead of coming down and burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.

(Adapted from The Herald Tribune)



Unit 6




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