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HOME > PAST ISSUE > March-April 2011 > Article Detail

ETHICS

Honesty

Ultimately, ethics in scientific publishing, as in life, comes down to one word

John F. Ahearne

Not So Fast

The virtue of honesty seems to be under great challenge in the world of blogs, Twitter and television “news” programs. Mark Twain identified the fundamental problem: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” If only these media were used as often to expose lies and herald truths.

Honesty is necessary for science to advance. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be necessary for society’s leaders, the individuals who largely hold the purse strings for science, to practice honesty. Recently, The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote about this problem:

When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues—deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate—let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together.

For the long-term health of the research community and of the individual, honesty is the best policy.

Bibliography

  • Ahearne, J. 1999. The Responsible Researcher: Paths and Pitfalls. Research Triangle Park, NC: Sigma Xi.
  • Bok, S. 1978. Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. New York: Pantheon Books.
  • Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine. 2009. On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, third edition. Washington: National Academies Press.
  • Friedman, T. L. 2010. Too good to check. The New York Times (November 16).
  • Gudeman, K. 2010. University of Illinois to develop national center for ethics in science, mathematics and engineering. Coordinated Science Laboratory News. http://csl.illinois.edu/news/university-illinois-develop-national-center-ethics-science-mathematics-and-engineering (Accessed January 19, 2011)
  • Hamilton, J., et al. 2003. Report of Ethics Task Force to APS Council. http://www.phys.utk.edu/colloquium_blume_spring2004_ethics.pdf (Accessed January 19, 2011)
  • Kennedy, D. 1997. Academic Duty. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Kirby, K., and F. A. Houle. 2004. Ethics and the welfare of the physics profession. Physics Today 57:42–46.
  • The New York Times editors. 2010. Mr. Ban pulls his punches. The New York Times (November 2).
  • Panel on Scientific Responsibility and the Conduct of Research, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine. 1992. Responsible Science, Volume I: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.
  • University of Notre Dame. 2010. Responsible Conduct of Research Statement. http://or.nd.edu/compliance/responsible-conduct-of-research-rcr/responsible-conduct-of-research-statement/ (Accessed January 19, 2011)








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