Teaching Research Ethics: Behavior

Ideally, RCR instruction changes not only attitudes, but also behavior. Examples of altered behaviors consistent with responsible conduct are:

  • Use of ethical principles/moral reasoning in decisions in the gray areas
  • Acting in a manner consistent with having identified with those who are suffering and/or vulnerable
  • Taking an active role to keep current with policy changes

Many believe that ethics instruction can influence the thinking processes that relate to behavior. Others have stated “it is unlikely that we will detect any behavioral change from having students take our course” (Sachs and Siegler, 1993).

A hope of many has been that training in the responsible conduct of research would decrease the incidence of serious research misconduct. This may be the case, but it is not supported by the evidence (Kalichman and Friedman, 1992; Eastwood et al, 1996; Brown and Kalichman, 1998; Kalichman, 2009).

A study by Laczniak and Inderrieden (1987) showed that organizations that create an ethical environment and enforce their codes of ethics have higher levels of ethical decision making. This study supports organizational efforts to foster ethical behavior.

Ultimately the goal is to cultivate thinking processes that develop moral behavior, which in turn leads to professionally ethical behavior. “A person must have sufficient perseverance, ego strength, and implementation to be able to follow through on his/her intention to behave morally, to withstand fatigue and flagging will, and to overcome obstacles” (Rest et al, 1986).

If one believes that ethics can be taught, then one aims to influence thinking processes that relate to behavior — that is, to change student minds about what they ought to do and how they wish to conduct their personal and professional lives (Bebeau et al, 1995).

Community

An additional dimension for behavioral change is to develop community; that is, to make changes not only in individual behavior but in the relationships among individuals and to develop a sense of solidarity with others. Some examples of this sense of community include:

  • To increase conversations among researchers about the ethical dimensions of the practice of research
  • To identify with other researchers
  • To decrease the gulf between researchers and subjects
  • To know the institution believes this is an important goal
  • To define and refine community standards

One perspective is that an important goal of RCR progrms is to help trainees understand the relationship of science to society (Reiser and Heitman, 1993).

Swazey, Anderson and Lewis (1993) surveyed doctoral candidates and faculty from 99 of the largest graduate departments in chemistry, civil engineering, microbiology and sociology to measure the rates of exposure to perceived misconduct in academic research. Their study highlights the significant influence that a faculty member’s behavior may have on the formation of a student’s values and standards. Equally important, graduate students perceptions about the position of their universities relative to RCR are formulated by the university’s willingness, or lack of it, to undergo self-examination.

Sachs and Siegler (1993) believe that teaching scientific integrity and the responsible conduct of research may benefit the research community in general not just course participants. Science itself is fundamentally grounded in ethical values, notably truthfulness and benefiting others. Involvement of an individual in producing knowledge creates an ethical responsibility for its outcome.

 


Originally published 1999-2013 at Resources for Research Ethics Education, a web project directed by Michael Kalichman, Ph.D., and Dena Plemmons, Ph.D., from the University of California-San Diego Research Ethics Program and the San Diego Research Ethics Consortium. Republished with permission.


Was this page helpful?    Yes    No