Ethics in Science and Research

There are no forbidden questions in science, no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed.

—Carl Sagan

Introduction

Scientific knowledge is derived from observation, study, and experimentation. Science is systematic and exact and follows a scientific method. The basic steps (Resnik, 1998) are as follows:

  • 1. Ask a question or pose a research problem based on initial data and background knowledge.
  • 2. Develop a working hypothesis based on existing information.
  • 3. Make predictions from the hypothesis and background knowledge.
  • 4. Test hypothesis and collect additional data.
  • 5. Analyze data.
  • 6. Interpret data.
  • 7. Confirm or disconfirm hypothesis. Cannot be proven, just supported or refuted.
  • 8. Disseminate results.

Henry H. Bauer’s (1994) Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method states that science rarely proceeds in such a systematic way as the scientific method implies. The reasoning behind this is that the process of science uses many strategies and methods as it goes; it is not an orderly process. The steps of the scientific method provide an ideal, not a specific formula. Solving problems and answering questions use a combination of theory, observation, and experimentation. Using one scientific method can give society unrealistic expectations of science and scientists; it is important to remember that science is the work of humans and that humans are impressionable, impulsive, subjective, and capable of rationalization (Bauer, 1994). In addition, humans have accountability in acquiring funds, justifying actions, and explaining outcomes to the public. Basic human values shape the direction of science, as science is built on trust and honesty. It is “a profession in which individuals cooperate together in order to advance human knowledge, eliminate ignorance, and solve practical problems” (Resnik, 1998). Scientists provide a service, answer questions, solve problems, provide justification through evidence, seek the truth, and provide jntellectual authority. Checks and balances to these goals include peer review, publication, and the open nature of scientific information. Challenges to meeting these goals include bias; time/knowledge/resource constraints; the balance of time and effort (i.e., to know when to keep going, take a different direction, or stop); scrutiny of society, politicians, and media; the limits of data; and the limit of or access to information.

According to David Goodstein’s (2002) “Myth of the Noble Scientist” idea, scientists are guilty of promoting, or at least tolerating, a false image of ourselves. His inference is that integrity presents an image of perfection. Unfortunately, this image does science a disservice because human behavior is a considerable factor in science. Science is unique in that it is both a profession and a social institution, which is not always the case in other fields. Certain criteria distinguish professions from social institutions. Professions enable people to obtain socially valued goals and to incorporate professional obligations to assure goals are met. Professions have standards of competence and conduct, require formal and informal training and education, include governing bodies for ensuring professional standards are met, are granted certain privileges to provide socially valued goods and services, and are often recognized as intellectual authorities. Science does not fit the criteria perfectly, but well enough for consideration as a profession. So how did science become a profession? The answer is through societies, journals, universities, research, education, employment in military and industry, technological applications, and public recognition, which provides standards, training, governing bodies, and other components required of professions. The goals of science include advancing human knowledge through problem solving, eliminating false beliefs, seeking truths, and providing justification and evidence for ideas. The scientist should value openness, free inquiry, and free exchange of ideas to accomplish the goals of science (Goodstein, 2002).

 
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