1.3 Report falsification

Graphics Format03-Mar-2010

As a graduate student you must conduct, discuss, and publish your research. Many potential traps await, and specific rules have been crafted to help guide you around them. In the United States, falsifying data is a federal crime. The U.S. National Science and Technology Council defines research misconduct as:

-> Fabrication -- making up data or results and recording or reporting them.

-> Falsification -- manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing, or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.

-> Plagiarism -- appropriating and using as one's own another person's documented ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit, including those obtained through confidential review of others' research proposals and manuscripts.

->Research misconduct does not include errors of judgment, errors in recording, selection or analysis of data, or opinion.

Around these definitions, however, are many gray areas. Sometimes an image is easier to interpret if it is modified with image enhancing software. If we use, say, Photoshop to "clean up" a digital image, are we guilty of a federal crime? (Not necessarily--just be sure to disclose what you have done! See Guidelines for Best Practices in Image Processing.)

Some rules vary from field to field. Some vary within a field from lab to lab. Some labs allow leeway even between one individual and the next. Can one person possibly know all of these subtle changes in the applicable rules in every situation one hundred percent of the time? The difficulties do not end here, for sometimes the rules change without formal notice. How can we keep up with them?

Most importantly, there are some ethical situations for which there is no rule. How do we make wise decisions under these trying conditions?

We rely on our peers and mentors. They will help us take into account not only our own interests and those of our profession but the interests of all sentient individuals. The more senior members of the scholarly community must warn the more junior members about unforeseen dangers, guide them around obstacles, help them think through the implications of the expanding moral circle.

The scholarly community is a powerful resource because it consists of folks who both support us, challenge us, and look over our shoulders when we are tempted to cut corners. There are many places to find this community. OSRE has a Facebook group we will shortly invite you to join. But from the start we want to admit that none of these communities is perfect. We must always be examining them, renewing them.

As a cautionary tale, consider the scholarly community in which Mary Allen found herself at a prominent Midwestern university.

Author: Gary Comstock
Maintained By: Gary Comstock
Last Updated: 2009-01-12