Archive for December, 2015

In but not of the education system, moving past “as I say, not as I do”

Have you ever felt like the outsider looking in?  Do you hear the words of change fall on the deaf ears around but shrug and do what is needed for your grade anyway?  Maybe I do.  Parker Palmer’s “A New Professional” struck a chord when he brought up the need for change from within the systems of society brought on by its members that are “in but not of” their systems.  It turns out that looking in may not be a bad perspective after all.

We don’t often talk about moral conflicts in our work but I have had an interesting past with such dilemmas.  I was working as a small engine mechanic after getting hired out of my class by a fellow student.  That turned out to be the better of two bosses in the small business that hired me.  The other boss was the salesman.  Time and again he would pit my technical proficiency against a customer to support an upsetting agenda that made me look like his  stooge.  I hated it overtime and began to pick up on when it would likely happen next.  My expectation allowed me to step up my professionalism and be better prepared to be an advocate on the side of the customer rather than a witness in the middle of a cross examination.  If it weren’t for the other boss, my classmate, I would have just had to go along with the badgering every time.  This is also where I found out people do not trust mechanics because of situations like this.

Where do moral conflicts like this arise in research?  The answer is everyday.  Lets look at how  we report our findings.  If our experiment yields significant differences in treatments after our analysis then we can use this to explain all kinds of ideas on how what we measured could happen in the real world.  If our data are not significantly different then we give one line saying so but rarely do we poke holes in our study design in our publications.  This creates a tense edge in research.  On one hand our experimental design should help us to gain insight from our results.  On the other hand, we commonly turn a blind eye to negative data in favor of more publishable results.  Add on the kind of overwhelmed feeling of emerging researchers that is similar to that of the resident from our case study, and we have a recipe for moral compromise that can compound itself.  A different example would be research efforts that essentially set out to prove one preconceived conclusion or another in hopes of more funding. Without such funding, PI’s, Labs, and whole programs can fail.  Without legitimate scientific enquiry… entire ecosystems can fail.  What kind of efforts can be made now to enable the new professionals to be agents of change?  Is there enough protection in play that we can call a timeout and stop the game clock when we know that research is suffering because of ethical compromises?  Or will we be forced to only blow the whistle after the fact and watch our bridges of networking smolder in ruin as a result?