How to Teach Research Ethics

As noted in our earlier discussion of street versus classroom RCR (responsible conduct of research) training, The Scientist has a refreshing piece by two non-biomedical scientists — C. Neal Stewart, Jr., professor and Ivan Racheff Chair of Excellence in Plant Molecular Genetics, and J. Lannett Edwards, associate professor and graduate director in the Department of Animal Science (UTenn, Knoxville) — on their adventure in teaching research ethics (inspired by personal encounters with less than ethical behavior). Their tips and syllabus get right to the heart of the matter. Nothing pretentious or holier than thou business here. Sounds like everyone learned along the way:

The first homework assignment was to find plagiarism. They did. They found gratuitous cases, and some not so black and white. Here we parsed through what is acceptable and not acceptable from a scientific standpoint. More importantly, we discussed, rather than lectured, about best practices and what happens when shortcuts are taken. So it went for the entire semester.”

I’m glad to see they use online resources (dynamic/regularly updated and freely available – and available for ready checking from any computer anywhere should a dilemma arise in daily lab life). Plus, students can check additional topics not covered by Drs. Stewart & Edwards that are recommended by ORI and required for PHS-funded trainees:

Data Acquisition, Management, Sharing and Ownership
Conflict of Interest and Commitment
Human Subjects
Animal Welfare
Research Misconduct
Publication Practices and Responsible Authorship
Mentor / Trainee Responsibilities
Peer Review
Collaborative Science

And on a related topic, the Committee on Research Integrity and Publication Practices of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has issued Guidelines for the Responsible Conduct of Research: Ethics and the Publication Process.



  1. CC said

    As noted in our earlier discussion of street versus classroom RCR (responsible conduct of research) training…

    I certainly applaud that distinction, but it’s not clear to me from the article what, if anything, the students were “taught” at the end of the day. Once they’re done chewing over how they think things should work and how they do work, whose “best practices in your discipline” are they then instructed in? Do those practices square with what the students then go back to the labs and can realistically do?

    And 8 am? What’s up with that?!?

    A sign of virtue perhaps? Very odd, given these are most certainly not clinicians (for whom o’dark thirty meetings are the norm).

    On the more serious consideration, I think your comment captures the issue at hand nicely. What can be “taught” about ethics in a classroom setting? Universally established rules and guidelines certainly (e.g., ICMJE publication guidelines, OHRP Protection of Human Subjects Policy, PHS Policies on Research Misconduct, etc.). But where no prescribed policies are available but considerable gray area exists (e.g., conflict of interest, mentorship, collaboration, data sharing, etc.), one hopes the “chewing things over” versus checking off a module completed or lecture attended will provide some context for thinking about actual situations that arise in actual research settings.

    And perhaps, even though the U Tenn course seems to have skirted a number of concepts incorporated in “traditional” RCR, the students had an opportunity to focus on what was most important and potentially useful in their research setting. Why indeed should plant molecular biologists worry about IACUC or IRB regulations? Maybe the one-size-fits-all, cattle call approach to satisfying NIH and NSF RCR requirements needs to be handled closer to the level of and customized to the potential needs, concerns, and interests of the researchers engaging in such “training.” I know most of these big lecture courses break into small groups for discussion, but not by discipline or tailored to the likely needs of the investigators involved.

    Enjoying your thoughtful comments, cc … please keep them coming! -writedit

  2. […] Get more information about this from the author here […]

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: