P&S Journal: Spring 1994, Vol.14, No.2
Setting the Course in Scientific Conduct
By Robin Eisner
For the first time in recent P&S history, graduate and postgraduate students involved in basic and clinical research can take a course that deals with the conduct of scientific research.
Organized by Dr. John Loike, a research scientist in physiology and cellular biophysics, and Dr. Jaime Rubin, assistant director of research administration and assistant professor in the Center for Radiological Research, the six-session course addresses these issues in scientific research: paper authorship; data collection and management; intellectual property; misconduct in science; mentorship; and conflict resolution.
"The course was designed to discuss these issues in a formal education setting," says Dr. Loike. "Before, students learned about these aspects of being a scientist informally, either in the laboratory from their mentor or from the postdoc they worked next to, or they picked some of it up as part of the general folklore of science."
Because of recent highly publicized misconduct cases, the NIH now requires institutions that receive NIH graduate and postdoctoral training grants to offer an education forum in scientific conduct. Institutions were given free reign to design such a course.
P&S decided to offer a one-point course on a pass/fail basis with six one-hour lectures. Required readings come from "The Ethical Dimension of the Biological Sciences," edited by Ruth Ellen Bulger, Elizabeth Hertman, and Stanley Joel Reiser (Cambridge University Press, 1993) and other literature. The course was held for the first time this spring. About 200 students registered, but a total of 300 people, including faculty members, social work students, and dental students, attended the lectures.
The publication and authorship lecture addresses the process for including researchers' names on a paper and the placement of those names. Manuscript review etiquette and repetitive publications also are discussed. Research notebooks, ownership of data, and inclusion or deletion of data from analysis are considered in the data management session.
The intellectual property lecture confronts the decision-making process in sharing scientific ideas, materials, and reagents and the issues involved in commercial applications of research, such as patents or copyrights. Pharmaceutical firm representatives and scientists will discuss how data sharing differs in industry.
The misconduct lecture embraces the definition of misconduct, such as fabrication and falsification of data and fraud. Distinguishing error from fraud also will be discussed. Institutional procedures for handling misconduct, protection of the accused/accuser, and implications of whistleblowing are other topics. The goal of the mentorship lecture is to teach students what they can expect from a mentor and help them ponder their own potential as mentors later in their careers. Issues such as respect for trainees, mentor trainee meetings, development of trainee independence, competition and collaboration within the laboratory, and sexual and other types of harassment will be addressed.
The conflict resolution lecture will discuss ways students can negotiate solutions to problems and develop strategies to prevent conflicts.
Unlike medical ethics courses that deal with medical decision-making and patients' rights, this course deals with issues in the conduct of scientific research. "It does not say there is always a right or wrong way to do science, but it addresses the gray areas where problems arise and provides possibilities to resolve issues should they come up," says Dr. Rubin.