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Ethical Problems in Academic Research

A survey of doctoral candidates and faculty raises important questions about the ethical environment of graduate education and research

Judith Swazey, Melissa Anderson, Karen Louis

Interpreting the Data

Our surveys have relatively high response rates compared to those of other efforts to study the various types of misconduct. Adjusted response rates for graduate students and faculty were 72 percent and 59 percent, respectively. In addition, the degree of agreement between faculty and student responses on most items reinforces the reliability of our data. Some of the items on which student and faculty observations are divergent reflect differences in opportunities to observe misconduct. Faculty, for example, report more knowledge of student plagiarism and cheating and more faculty misuse of research funds and facilities, which probably reflects faculty members' greater access to these types of information.

We have no reason to think that the data do not accurately reflect the respondents' experiences, which may include self-reports of their own activities. Nevertheless, we recognize the need for several caveats in interpreting our findings. To begin with, we do not know exactly how respondents defined the phrase "other direct evidence" in the survey instructions. Second, since the questionnaires did not ask the respondents to distinguish between what they believed to be instances of misbehavior and cases that had been confirmed by an official or unofficial type of investigation, their responses should be viewed as "strongly suspected" instances. A third important caveat bears repeating. Because it is likely that more than one faculty or student respondent in a given department reported the same incident in their questionnaires, one cannot estimate from our data what percentage of faculty or graduate students in a given department or in the four disciplines may be engaging in a particular type of misconduct or questionable research practice. Rather, growing out of the project's focus on the ways that departments and disciplines affect the education and socialization of graduate students, our objective was to document the exposure of graduate students and faculty to what they believe is ethically wrong or problematic conduct in their departments.

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