Ethics in Research

Dishonesty in research is a topic that throughout the years has been getting more attention which is very alarming. Just by comparing the amount of cases that have been reported  and published on the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) website you can quickly notice that the number of cases does not appear to decrease. Research misconduct is a threat to the scientific community and science in general because it lead to disbelief and lost of trust from the general public. This limits the influence scientific findings have on the audience and represents a challenge to those who conduct research ethically. To further discuss ethics in research I am going to reflect and discuss one of the many cases that have been addressed as unethical and where misconduct has been highlighted.

The case selected is of a former post-doctoral researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The misconduct addressed in this case is the falsification of data in a paper publication and in two grants that were supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Institute of Health, respectively.  The manipulation of the data conducted resulted in the exaggeration of results in order to support the proposed hypothesis. The consequences of this misconduct were as follow:

(1) any sort of research conducted has to be supervised for 3 years starting on December 30, 2019

(2) any research application or grant proposal specially any grant to be  submitted to the U.S Public Health Service (PHS) needs to be supervised and go under rigorous evaluation if the person that has engaged in research  misconduct is involved in any way

(3) any institution that hires this person has to submit a certification to ORI that the data that is being presented by this person for an abstract, manuscript, grant, etc.  is legitimate and that all the procedures to obtain it have been accurate

(4) if the person has not applied or been involved in any grant applications or manuscripts publications they need to inform this to ORI

(5) exclude themselves from advising at any capacity on an PHS committee for 3 years

The manipulation of results at any stage in your career is something that can have a domino effect and greatly affect your professional role as well as your credibility, specifically in science. Your integrity as a scientist is one of the most valuable assets you have and in order to maintain, be respected and valued for the work you do, is critical to remain truthful and transparent about the procedures you use and how you obtain your results. This is not limited to science only, but in any field that you embark. The misconduct evaluated here and the consequences of the actions engaged in, required this person to be supervised for  3 years and refrain from serving any roles in any committee that involved PHS.  Being in an early-career stage can be very damaging when engaging in research misconduct and this will  present challenges for their professional opportunities and further development.  Although, the “major” consequences are set to only last for only 3 years, the case is public and that will always be brought up in any future job interview, paper publication or grant application.

Mission statements

Mission statements can be perceived as the goals and priorities of an entity. What an entity stands for and expects can vary depending on what they represent and what influences them. Mission statements are very common in higher education institutions and these have value and significance when it comes to determining the institutions aspirations and the kind of students, faculty and staff they want to enroll and hire. I took the opportunity of this assignment to reflect on the mission statements from institutions I have attended. The two mission statements are from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and the University of New Hampshire (UNH). I got my bachelor’s from UPR in Río Piedras, where I majored in Environmental Sciences and I recently finished my master’s in Natural Resources at UNH.

The University of Puerto Rico’s mission statement goes as follows:

The University of Puerto Rico, as a public institution of higher education, is mandated by law to serve the people of Puerto Rico, consistent with the ideals of a democratic society like ours.

The main mission of the University of Puerto Rico is to achieve the following objectives:

  • Transmit and increase knowledge through the arts and sciences, putting this knowledge at the service of the community through its teachers, researchers, other university personnel, students and graduates.
  • Contribute to the development, cultivation and enjoyment of the aesthetic and ethical values ​​of culture.

To fulfill this mission, the University must:

  • Cultivate the love of knowledge as a way of freedom through the search and discussion of the truth, in an attitude of respect for creative dialogue.
  • Preserve, enrich and disseminate the cultural values ​​of the Puerto Rican people and strengthen the awareness of their unity in the common endeavor to democratically resolve their problems.
  • Procure the integral formation of the student.
  • To fully develop the intellectual and cultural wealth latent in our people, so that the values ​​of intelligence and the spirit of exceptional personalities that emerge in all social sectors, especially those least favored in economic resources, can be put at the service of Puerto Rican society.
  • Collaborate with agencies, within their own spheres of action, in the study of Puerto Rico’s problems and be at the forefront in the search for effective solutions to them.
  • Bear in mind that because of its character as a University and because of its identification with the ideals of life in Puerto Rico, it is essentially linked to the values ​​and interests of all democratic communities.

Law of the University of Puerto Rico, Law No. 1 of January 20, 1966, as amended.”

Being a native from Puerto Rico and having spent most of my life there allowed me to be exposed to a rich culture and set of traditions that are dominant in the life of any Puerto Rican born and raised on the island. From UPR’s mission statement there are a few words that stand out. Words such as “cultivate“, “enrich“, and “intellectual and cultural wealth” highlight the importance of fostering a sense of community within the students and faculty. The richness and diversity within the Puerto Rican culture is highlighted in the academic formation of its students. UPR’s statement does a good job in making this aspect of their mission stand out. Additionally, the fostering  of knowledge or contributing to the intellectual formation of its students emphasizes the eagerness of the institution to benefit and challenge its students intellectually.

On the other hand, we have the mission statement from the University of New Hampshire which states the following:

“The mission of the University System of New Hampshire is to serve the higher educational needs of the people of New Hampshire. The University System strives to assure the availability of appropriate higher educational opportunities to all New Hampshire people; seeks to enroll a diverse student population to enhance educational experiences; and provides programs and activities based on a commitment to excellence. Through its institutions, the University System engages in research which contributes to the welfare of humanity and provides educational resources and professional expertise which benefit the state and its people, the region and the nation. ”

Different from UPR, UNH’s statement is centered towards developing an education that will fit the necessities of its students, assuring that the type of education instructed provides a base of knowledge that benefits their educational experience. Some words that stand out from UNH’s mission statement are: “serve”, “availability”, and “commitment to excellence”.

Although the approaches taken from both institutions towards missions’ statements are different, they highlight a commitment to foster an education that contributes to the well-being of society. Both statements emphasize how important is to give back to the community and the importance of helping others through your knowledge and expertise. When we think about higher education institutions this is a key component that is very present in them. I believe this is due to the community that one builds when attending any of these institutions. Finally, having a sense of belonging in a place is the first thing needed for caring enough about it and therefore, engage and be eager to participate in the different events, discussions and activities that take place at these institutions.