Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How Our Colleagues Influence Our Ethical Behavior

Whistleblowing is one of those topics that comes up on a regular basis when I give talks to groups of students about responsible conduct of research or professional ethics. So I was interested to hear a piece on NPR yesterday morning that talked about a study that has recently been done showing that our peers tend to have some of the most influence on if we speak up if we see or hear about an ethical violation.

This study conducted at the University of Michigan seemed to show that its not a question of having an ethical supervisor or working for an ethical company, its all about our co-workers. In the study, 100 people were asked to come up with a solution to a problem. Each person was sat down in front of a computer, and told that they were going to be working with other individuals working at separate computers. If the team as a whole got the answer right, they would get a $300 price. Each individual was told not to use the internet to get information to help them solve the problem. As soon as the person sat down, he or she would receive an instant message from a fellow team-member saying that she had found out that she could use her iphone to access the internet undetected....thereby helping them win the cash prize. Some individuals received instant messages from co-workers acting in an ethical way, refusing to go along. Others received instant messages saying "Great, I should have thought of that!"  The researchers found that when the fellow team members were ethical, 2/3 of the volunteers reported that there was a problem. When co-workers acted unethically, only 1/3 of the volunteers spoke up.

This study points the way for how we can begin to foster better ethical climates in our workplaces and with most things the top-down approach does not seem to be the most effective. As the study suggests, it takes a village to foster ethical conduct.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Center closed for Memorial Day, May 27th

Like the rest of IIT, the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions will be closed in celebration of Memorial Day on Monday, May 27th. We will resume normal hours on the 28th.

Repost 'Its Not Just Privacy, Porn and Pipe Bombs" - A Great Take on Professional Ethics and Librarianship

Lane Wilkinson, librarian blogger of "Sense and Reference" just shared a really fantastic presentation she gave in October of 2012 on librarianship and professional ethics.  You can check it out here.  I have never presented the concept of common morality as including the rule, "Never kick babies" but I suppose it does. And it does let you include pictures of men in diapers in your presentation. 

Check it out, you will enjoy it.

Friday, May 17, 2013

NSF Refuses to Give Congressman Access to Review Comments

As we have mentioned in earlier posts, CSEP is the U.S. partner on a EU project looking at how governments encourage, fund, and assess research and innovation that drives towards the common good ( desirability). As part of our research, we have been closely studying the proposal review system of the National Science Foundation.  NSF users two merit review criteria to review proposals, intellectual merit and broader impacts. This last, which looks at the potential impact the proposed project may "benefit society or advance socially desirable outcomes" has also been used as a way to justify why taxpayer money should be used to support basic research.

The types of projects that NSF has come under fire in the past few years. For example, in March of this year, the Senate added an amendment to a finance bill that severely limits the ability of the NSF t oapprove any grants involving political science unless the agency can certify them as "promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States." This amendment was proposed by Senator Tom Coburn, who has been a sharp critic of the agency.

This Wednesday, Science Magazine published an article on the news section of its site discussion how NSF has recently refused a request from the chairman of the House of Representatives science committee to obtain review comments on five social science outreach projects it is funding. In a letter to Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) the agency defended its need to preserve the confidentiality of the peer-review process. Representative Smith has also drafted a bill called the "High Quality Research Act" which would add a layer of oversight to the peer review process and potentially politicizes decisions about what grants receive NSF funding.

Specifically the bill (as it currently reads) would require the NSF director to post on NSF's web site, prior to any award, a declaration that certifies the research is:  

1) "… in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science;
2) "… the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and
3) "… not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies."
NSF's current guidelines ask reviewers to consider the "intellectual merit" of a proposed research project as well as its "broader impacts" on the scientific community and society. (original article)
The bill is being justified as a way to make NSF more accountable for how it spends taxpayer money and to stop funding for questionable research.  Critics of the bill say that it ignores the importance of duplicate research in science as a way to verify results, and that it would wrongly involve lawmakers in a peer review system that is the "gold standard" for the science community.
So what do you think? Should there be more governmental oversight on the projects funded by agencies like the NSF?