I posted previously on ethics, but the concept of punishment for infractions interested me this week. This past week, when my group was asked to select a case from the ORI Case Summaries section, we picked the one on Meredyth Forbes who “intentionally fabricated and/or falsified data for zebrafish embryogenesis and oocyte polarity” in two papers and two different presentations. She also worked magic with photoshop to show her results in selected pictures (ORI). Basically her punishment was that she wouldn’t be able to work for or with the government on any studies or publications for three years (ORI). Granted, she wasn’t working on a project that concerned the welfare of human beings, but generally, the consensus at our table was that the punishment was fairly lenient.
I would suspect that the punishment for anyone willingly and knowledgeably endangering human life would be greater than that of someone photoshopping a picture of a zebrafish. But at the same time, our group seemed to think that it was the principle of the thing that matters. Forbes willingly engaged in unethical activity in order to get published, knowing that falsifying data for any reason was wrong. This is wrong. To our group, it seemed that once a name disappears from ORI Case Summaries section, the consequences don’t appear as visible. Forbes could easily get a job again, or so it seems.
I also wonder if academia should believe in the idea of second chances. Everyone makes mistakes, and there’s a saying in culture that like to remind us that everyone deserves a second chance. Should this apply to those that unethically alter data in order to advance their name in their realm of studies? This is a hard question. Based off of what we discussed in class, the concept of second chances in academia seems to depend on the severity of the infraction.
The Office of Research Integrity. “Case Summary: Forbes, Meredyth .” The Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed 15 March 2017, link.