What would you do?
If you were feeling pressured to conduct research, publish your findings, obtain grants for funding, and all while juggling all your other responsibilities at work in order to keep your job, would you stretch yourself to a point of misrepresentation of the truth? Would you round up/down numbers in efforts to make your work presentable? Publishable? Does it really make much difference when you are only sharing information about your research work?
This is much an all too familiar situation in higher institution and research labs across the globe. With pressures to “publish or perish”, make-it-work moments, and being stretched thin, many researchers can walk a think fine line into unethical territory.
After recently reviewing several case summaries published by the US Health and Human Services Department by the Office of Research Integrity I was shocked to see just how much misconduct has been caught, researched, and corrected. Many fine researchers have had to retract statements about their work, agreed to punitive administrative corrective actions, and have to maintain a higher level of scrutiny for various imposed time frames.
In my profession, as a Licensed Professional Counselor, we have a code of ethics and professional standards which we must abide. These are outlined by the American Counseling Association (ACA) which most professional counselors are members. Even without membership in the ACA, these are the ethical codes and professional standards we are taught in our master’s level training programs.
If we are charged as researchers, would not our basic moral code be to “do no harm”? Does it make a difference depending upon the area of research? Do our subjects of study make a difference? Are there implications of our research that could cause harm to others if published or not published?
In my opinion, there are many things that really raise a multitude of more questions. As a health care professional, it is my first responsibility to do no harm. As a researcher, this code of ethics and professional standards still take precedent over my research agenda. Fortunately I know that my profession is ahead of the curve than others regarding ethical obligations and standards. My hope is that as these infractions continue to occur, that more areas of research will adapt their own, or strengthen their current, code of ethics and professional standards. For without this, it breaches our faith – in research, in helping, and in mankind.
Bigger questions for me are, if as a researcher in the face of an ethical situation:
- Do you even know when you are in an ethical situation?
- Do you know what to do?
- How do you avoid the quicksand and make the best ethical decisions?
- Is there a governing board within your profession for reviewing these?
- Are there places for the researcher to turn for help navigating these issues/decisions?