The Photoshop alterations in the Syrian Conflict photo emphasize how ethics can be a slippery slope. I find it hard to believe that a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist was fired for such a seemingly harmless alteration. However, if the news agency allowed this minor offense to slide, they would have set a precedent for future journalists to make the same, if not worse, alterations which could misrepresent world events. This consequence would obviously be an ethical dilemma.
We recently discussed in our HNFE graduate seminar the potential consequences of falsifying data in research studies. In the field of dietetics, we are ethically responsible to use evidence-based nutrition guidelines in nutrition counseling. It’s cool (and scary at the same time) to think about how research studies can change the way health professionals care for their patients. In rare cases, the influences of research studies are not so positive.
For example, there was a study by a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield that reported links between autism and a childhood vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella. This caused vaccination rates to drop drastically. However, it was later discovered that Wakefield altered the medical history of his participants; there was no link between autism and the vaccine. As such, Measles cases increased drastically in the following years. Full story here:
It’s mind-boggling to me how the falsification of data can negatively impact public health on such a large scale. It is our responsibility as researchers to follow not only our personal moral codes, but also our professional code of ethics, to ensure the safety of the public at large.