Research Ethics

As scientists are exposed to closer public scrutiny and demands for greater accountability, the importance of more formal training in the many complex ethical issues that surround scientific research is growing. In particular, Ph.D. students in the Bioengineering Department should be aware that the National Institutes of Health requires some training and discussion in ethical issues as a condition of financial support.

At present ethical topics are discussed in the department in several ways: these include seminars during our regular Departmental Seminar series by scientists, officials and others experienced in scientific ethics; group discussions, frequently during regular lab meetings; and as a component of regularly scheduled courses.

Other departments at UCSD have more extended courses and seminars on ethical issues. The Biology Department offers a mini seminar course on ethics. Graduate Programs in the School of Medicine like the Biomedical Science Program have a variety of seminar courses and discussion sessions. One excellent course is offered by the School of Medicine. This course, entitled SOM 226, Scientific Ethics, is conducted as a weekly discussion forum. Topics include scientific misconduct, government regulation, use of genetic information, whistle blowing, animal and human subject trials, and other subjects related to authorship and plagiarism.

An excellent resource is the National Academy of Sciences publication "On Being a Scientist", which is distributed with this handbook. The hypothetical case studies it contains are an excellent starting point for discussion of important and frequently complex topics such as assigning credit and priorities, determining authorship, the integrity of scientific data, recognizing and responding to ethical violations, ethics and grant writing. Graduate students are encouraged to read this booklet and discuss it with faculty and students.

References and Other Sources:
On Being a Scientist, 2nd Ed., National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1995
Ethics Center for Engineering and Science Ethics (MIT): Engineering Ethics, Research,
Science Conduct On-Line (American Association for the Advancement of Science),
Ethics in Science (Virginia Polytechnic and State University)