Why should people take preventive measures against unethical conduct? Recently, the public has been increasingly interested in the importance of ethical conduct. The focus is a direct result of individuals and corporations such as Enron, Worldcom, Martha Stewart Omnimedia, and Bernie Madoff that have endured large, highly publicized ethical scandals. In 2015, the top examples included the Volkswagen emissions scandal, the FIFA corruption, Toshiba’s accounting, and fraud within Turing Pharmaceuticals (Matthews and Gandel, 2015). These examples have heightened the public’s awareness of misconduct, so now what measures will improve the society’s overall outlook on ethics? The first step to improving ethical behavior is awareness—a clear picture of the current state of ethics is needed before professions can plan for the future. Awareness encourages practitioners to take greater care in responding to ethical concerns when they arise and have a better appreciation for the idea that no profession or person is immune from issues. Support from scientific and professional literature is vital to increase ethical awareness in forensic science. Although not universal, many of the related professions, such as law enforcement, encounter similar ethical pressures and dilemmas as the forensic science culture. It is important to realize that even small-scale ethical issues are serious because these actions have the potential to lead to even bigger problems. Increased communication among professionals regarding solutions to common dilemmas will improve ethical practices. If the fundamental standards of science and personal integrity are applied to dilemmas, ethical debates are minimized to the betterment of the profession and of society.
It is important to consider many possible solutions to ethical dilemmas and to consider society as a whole rather than individual or organizational interests. The practice of ethics is advanced by overcoming ignorance, embracing uncertainty, reporting results honestly, and, most importantly, recognizing the greater social responsibility of forensic scientists. Openness and awareness are the first steps in creating a more ethical discipline.
Once professions become aware of the ethical issues common to the field, and before they begin to change such practices, discussions should take place. Language is a crucial factor in the communication of ethical issues. Communication affects the impact of an issue and also influences the stance a person will take on the issue. The language used may manipulate a person’s viewpoint if the words chosen exaggerate points. This type of communication is known as loaded language and is eliminated with the use of neutral, descriptive words. Another common problem in communication of ethical matters is ambiguous terminology. To alleviate this problem, one should attempt to clarify words or phrases that people could easily misunderstand, such as bias. Although definitions contribute to clarity, an additional explanation is commonly required, such as during court testimony. Forensic scientists should not talk down to juries but should provide an explanation that will improve jury members’ overall knowledge of the subject matter as an educator. Ways to enhance communication concerning ethical matters include listening carefully, respecting alternate views, having a willingness to learn, and actively participating in the conversation by asking questions, speaking calmly, seeking common ground, and remaining engaged. Actions to avoid in conversations about ethics are monopolizing the conversation, speaking loudly, exaggerating differences, exploiting weaknesses, becoming defensive, and using facts only as weapons. One should avoid these actions because they are ineffective, do not contribute to new ideas, and prevent trust from the other party. The goal of communicating ethical issues is to inform people, to negotiate the outcome, or to gain further perspective on the issue.