for the Advancement of Science, was an early report that still would enhance the quality of current discussions about appropriate behavior in science.

A second approach to teaching ethics focuses on examining laws, institutional policies, and professional standards that guide certain fields of activity (such as the use of human subjects in biomedical, social, or behavioral research or the use of hazardous materials in the natural sciences). Such an approach can clarify the justification for adopting particular rules and also can explain the context and some of the abuses and value conflicts that spurred the development of specific rules and standards. Discussions of institutional policies should be explicit about appropriate channels for raising concerns when one witnesses misconduct in science, questionable research practices, or other misconduct. Such discussions may help prevent conflicts that can result from poor communication or poorly understood expectations about what behaviors constitute misconduct in science or questionable research practices.

A third approach involves going beyond laboratory and classroom discussions of responsibility in research to consider specific ethical questions in the broader context of competing rights and obligations in the research community. University-wide forums can provide opportunities to discuss authorship, communication, and datahandling practices that may both educate faculty and students and allow comparison of different disciplinary practices. Research institutions could also provide funds to graduate students, interns, and other junior scientists to organize discussion sessions and to prepare case studies to highlight current ethical dilemmas. Such forums and sessions could also facilitate interdisciplinary discussions of the philosophy, history, and social studies of science that bear on scientific conduct.

Experience gained in teaching engineering ethics and biomedical ethics suggests that the following principles can contribute to the success of ethical discussions as they are integrated into scientific or engineering programs:

  • More than generalities should be taught. Specific examples, preferably local case histories, are the preferred way to provide guidance on matters important in the profession.

  • Education must aim at influencing behavior. Professional training cannot assure that people will make correct moral judgments, but it can provide the opportunity to learn from experts who can explain the reasoning behind certain moral judgments or professional practices.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement