What is misconduct?

The results of a small survey of graduate students and post-docs suggest that our research trainees don’t really know what research misconduct is below the level of flat-out fabrication.

However, we were dismayed that only 54 per cent gave a three to “knowingly selecting only those data that support a hypothesis” and 42 per cent to “deleting some data to make trends clearer”. The naivety is staggering. – Tim Birkhead & Tom Montgomerie

They also note that these individuals face considerable barriers to reporting misconduct when they believe it has occurred.

I recall the mandatory ethics class we took at Washington University in St. Louis. It was worthless. I recall spending a great deal of time talking about “salami science”. Salami science is the practice of parceling your work out into as many paper with as little unique content each as possible. This is bad behavior that games some of the systems used to evaluate researchers. It does not, however, corrupt the scientific results with inaccurate data and results.

While I received my training in proper, scientific conduct in my thesis lab, that is not a sustainable solution. The future of scientific investigation should not depend on the efforts of individual thesis mentors – they are simply too inconsistent. Ethics education is key to training in the proper implementation of the scientific method and should be central to all aspects of graduate training, including the development of quality courses that provide real training in ethics and identifying misconduct.