The Legal System and Scientific Misconduct
Scientific misconduct is any form of violation of the accepted codes of intellectual and ethical conduct in scientific research profession. According to the Danish definition of scientific misconduct, the practice is typical of gross negligence or intentional acts in the profession which lead to the fabrication of scientific outlook, award of false credit or giving prominence to scientists. It is Denmark which took lead in handling issues of scientific misconduct. To serve this role, the Denmark government established in 1998 the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty.1 However, in 1st August 2005, the Danish legislature declared a new law restricting the functions of the Committees due to the political consequences which resulted from the manner Lomborg case was handled. The Danish definition however, does not differ very much from the Swedish one. The Swedish definition identifies scientific misconduct as intentional fabrication of hypothesis, text, data or experimental procedures by using publications or manuscripts of another researcher thus distorting them.
In the contemporary society, the intentional date falsification or provision of any research information which is misleading or reporting false research results is regarded to be scientific misconduct. In another version, scientific misconduct involves fraud which includes the invention or fabrication of data with the aim of deceiving or misleading the audience in question. Another form of scientific misconduct involves piracy which is the intentional exploitation of the work or ideas of other researchers without proper acknowledgement. Plagiarism is another form of scientific misconduct. Here, scientists are involved in intentional copying of other authors’ materials and making them their own without acknowledging the ideas, text and data. In plagiarism, the scientists obtain and use other peoples work without any granted permission from the source. Other forms of conducts in the scientific community which are not scholarly include the falsification of documents or credentials and the misrepresentation of scientific ideas.
Following the advent of science over the past decades, there has been an increased need for litigating the whole practice of scientific conduct and thus mounting the role of the legal system in the advances. A large number of universities, source of research funding, societies, congregational committees and federal agencies have shown concern about the ever increasing cases of scientific misconduct.2 As a result, some of the organizations have documented specific standard which define such misconducts and also giving the appropriate guidelines in dealing with scientific misconduct allegations.
Researchers who commit crimes related to scientific misconducts have a common form of motivation. With science being a very strong career driven field, scientists often find themselves striving to acquire decent reputations in order to obtain funding and support from various sponsors. This situation which scientists find themselves in can be associated with career pressure which demands that a scientist comes up with a high profile publication of scientific paper. This practically means that a scientist is supposed to either publish decent papers or perish.3 This career pressure makes most scientists to fabricate scientific publications and data in order to earn big. Apart from publications, scientists fabricate experiment procedures so as to be the first to find solutions.
The legal system should consider the instances of scientific misconducts as these often come due to laziness among the scientists. Some of the scientists may be too lazy to perform experiments in the required codes and end up going the easy way without undergoing any difficulty or trouble. This is undue means of obtaining fame or financial benefit. Sometimes, scientists get it so hard to reproduce results accurately without chances of being obscured by extraneous data or artifacts. This reasoning makes the scientist to get away with the guiltiness of scientific misconduct as they can defend themselves on this point. This protection gives scientists the freedom to falsify scientific acts or sometimes claim that they are innocent in their actions. Another problem is that there is no police trained specially trained to manage scientific issues.
The increasing trend of scientific misconduct calls for a critical role of the legal system to be able to recognize instances of scientific misconduct. Scientific codes of good practice should be practiced to enable development of research concepts in an appropriate manner. This is because a platform for graven conducts of scientific operation of a scientist can easily develop after ignoring minor irregularities by management and colleagues. Scientists often forget to properly report the source of ideas and experiments or sometimes giving inadequate acknowledgment.4 These minor offenses are typical to researchers who have not yet received any prior basic rules for the required scientific practice.
There are several state laws governing the inhabitant’s behaviors and it should be noted that laws are not a form of punishment. Instead, state laws are meant to prevent the undesirable behavior in the community we live. Criminal activities has in deed been taking place which calls for the civil society to have enhanced legal systems to be dealing with incidences of crime in an appropriate way.
The similar way the society needs a legal framework in dealing with criminal offenses is the same way scientific community requires legal system to address issues of misconducts in science practice. It is true that scientific misconducts have been occurring within the scientific society and it sounds naïve to deny its existence. There are examples in history which best illustrate this concept of scientific misconduct. These examples involve some scientists who stepped out of the line to have illegal scientific practices in their fields of specialization.
One of the known examples is the case of Charles Darwin and his theory of ‘The Origin of Species’. It is known that the British naturalist who became very famous in 1859 after his theory of natural selection as a mean of explaining the origin of species. It is was later confirmed that Charles Darwin discovered his mechanism of explaining the origin of species from the letters he received from Alfred Russel Wallace which explained concepts of biological evolution. After Darwin making his discoveries, he never gave adequate credit to Russel regarding his concepts on biological evolution. Darwin, in 1858, organized to prepare a publication on the origin of species which was a joint paper covering the concepts of Wallace and himself before he could publish his main paper in 1859. What exempts Darwin from acts of scientific misconducts is that Wallace later accepted that the theory was purely Darwin’s work.5 Another way to defend Darwin is that he did his individual research for two decades and that Wallace’s contribution was received after Darwin lost his child. Furthermore, since there was an agreement between Wallace and Darwin, there should be no conception that Darwin performed any scientific misconduct.
Misinformation in the field of science, shown by a typical example of Darwin’s discovery, clearly indicates how false attitudes are supported and built up among scientists in the modern society. These attitudes present that everyone can commit scientific misconduct even the prominent Darwin. As a result of this, the legal system should be on alert to check on the scientists who show poor codes of scientific practice. It is also the duty of senior scientists to react to this menace so that the problem of scientific misconduct can be prevented.
One of the most scientific discovery which made headlines and changed the whole course of biological research was the deciphering of the genetic code through the understanding the Double Helical structure of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid).this great discovery was believed to have been made by Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins joined by James Watson, an American biophysicist and geneticist. It is unfortunate to note that the true discoverer, Rosalind Elsie Franklin who was a British molecular biologist was never in the mention.6 In 1962 when the three scientists received a Nobel Prize, Rosalind had died of cancer four years down the line when she was thirty seven. It was revealed that Franklin was working on the project of developing the X-Ray crystallography which enabled the taking of the photographs used in molecular biology texts today. Franklin had been employed by Wilkins to work in his laboratory. The photographs taken by Franklin lay in her drawer until Wilkins discovered it and went on telling Watson and Crick about it. Crick and Watson became so excited and took it public and claiming the idea to be theirs. This typical example shows clearly the case of plagiarism, fraud or can as well be termed as insensitivity of women in the field of science by gender sensitive lobbying groups. The case of Franklin shows why there is need to bring sanity in the field of scientific research by strengthening legal systems in states. Had this been done earlier, Franklin would have been the one we sing about as the discoverer of the structure of DNA as a double helix.
The discovery of the telephones we use today had some form of scientific misconduct. It was Philip Reis who was a German professor and an inventor who first developed the telephone and went further to demonstrate how it functioned to people. Alexander Graham Bell, an American inventor was one of the witnesses who saw Reis’ demonstration.7 Immediately, Graham rushed to imitate Reis discovery and make his own telephone. With the laws that existed in the US at the time, Bell imeiately patented the idea to be his original thinking on 14th February, 1876. Just a few hours after Bell registered his patent, Elisha Gray rushed to have his patent too be registered but it was too late. Elisha and other scientist sought to oppose the patent registration by Bell. Bell backed up by mighty lawyers and financial supremacy, suppressed the opposition from Elisha and the other contesters.
The cases of telephone invention and the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA indicate a great problem brought by improper intellectual property rights appropriation in the field of science. The improper appropriation saw Bell patenting an idea which was not his but only gained through a stolen concept during Reis’ demonstration. In the modern case, wily research scientists have often come up with publications based on lecture materials presented by other scientists without giving credit to them. This is an example of plagiarism which should attract legal dealing.8
In the examination of Lysenko affair finally came to be a case of fraud in the research practice. Trofin Lysenko, a Ukrainian agricultural experimentalist carried scientific experiments without prior scientific concept backing. Ukraine suffered a lot of famine in 1930s and Lysenko managed to impress the dictator Joseph Stalin who ruled the former Soviet Union. Lysenko had wild claims that he had made discoveries in key methods of carrying out crop farming without the need of applying fertilizers or manures or other forms of minerals. Lysenko also suggested to have found a mean of growing crops under the unfavorable conditions of vernalization. The ideas of Darwin and Lamarck were totally twisted by Lysenko and instead developed own biological theories which disagreed with all the theories that were proposed by all the scientists in the exterior the Soviet Union. However, although Lysenko theories seemed wild ideas, they actually managed to please Stalin. Furthermore, they fitted well into the political conceptions of Stalin that environmental factors are determinants in the performance of crops in the fields and not the inheritance factors which were identified later as genes. Since Stalin trusted Stalin by a very high degree, Lysenko was crowned as the leader of all biological science and research in the entire Soviet Union. Lysenko was also awarded the highest ranks and benefits in recognition of his scientific research ‘achievements’. Lysenko’s experiments results of corn growing and other experiments were applied in Siberia and had massive failure. When tried in Russia, the results obtained from Lysenko experiments led to severe hunger.9 It was only after Stalin died in 1953 that it became to be recognized that Lysenko conducted a fraudulence act since the ideas were widely known to the Soviet Union biologist scientists for many years although they could not be revealed during the rule of Stalin.
The case of Lysenko did not receive criticism due to great immunity that was provided during the rule of Stalin. However, this immunity ended in the year 1964 after Khrushchev, the successor of Stalin as the Soviet leader got dismissed as a leader. The dismissal was after Andrei Sakharov who was a physicist talked openly against Lysenko in the General Assembly of the Academy of Science. In his speech, Andrei held Lysenko responsible for the deteriorating state of biological knowledge of the Soviet Union. Lysenko had also contributed to the defamation, arrest, firing and death of several genuine scientists according to the speech of Andrei. After the speech of Andrei, a committee of experts was called by the Academy of Sciences to look into the work done by Lysenko. After a few months of investigation the critique on Lysenko’s work finally became public and that was the end of Lysenko’s era.
It is the responsibility of the judicial system to consider scientific misconduct as serious crime as it affects the entire state and even globally. For I stance in the case of Lysenko, the government and the political system played a key role in the deterioration of the states economy by embracing and supporting ideology based research instead of backing scientific method based research.10 The system gave privileges to Lysenko and through this Lysenko persecuted any scientist who showed signs of opposing him. This is another typical example of scientific misconduct although in the real sense Lysenko never had proper scientific training backup.
The United States is one of the nations to be recognized to have taken steps towards dealing with scientific misconduct. The offices for handling issue of lack of honesty and integrity were installed by two federal institutions in 1989. These federal institutions were the Public Health Service and the national Science Foundation. Since inception, majority of cases have been handled within the category of Public health Service where the Office of Research Integrity is administered. The Office of Research Integrity is responsible for handling cases of fraud and forms of misconduct in behavioral and biomedical research projects funded by the government.
The legal system in various nations should consider recognizing the scientific misconduct. The case of Baltimore shows how the issue of creating awareness of scientific misconduct is necessary. The case of David Baltimore, a prominent researcher in the field of biomedicine and 1975 Nobel Laureate was meant to resign his capacity as the president of the Rockefeller University in 1991. David Baltimore served as the president since 1989. His case traced back to 1986 when he was an MIT director in the centre of biomedical research. It was in 1986 that David Baltimore together with other co-authors made a publication of a paper explaining various mechanisms induced by the passing of the genetic material from one strain to other using mice as experimental animals. Later in May 1986, Theresa Imanishi –Kari, one of Baltimore’s co-authors also got accused of scientific frauds after reporting some genetic material data.11
During the case hearing in the Congress, Baltimore strongly defended Theresa on the ground that scientists were purely judges on their own. Although Baltimore had this idea that scientist were responsible being able to make judges of their own, the congress had a different observation and instead took initiative to establish the Office of Research Integrity. Baltimore case was decided in 1996 and Imanishi-Kari was completely acquitted while Baltimore was forced to resign as the president of the Rockefeller University in the year 1991.12 Baltimore received what may be termed as rehabilitation in the year 1997 after he got nominated as the president of California Institute of Technology. Baltimore’s case shows how complex it is to deal with cases of scientific misconduct in our society without well set legal framework.
An important case in Denmark which made the problem of scientific misconduct to be highlighted was the Lomborg case. The case had great international attention which was all about the accusation of Bjorn Lomborg a social scientist of scientific dishonesty in his writing. In his book, “The Sceptical Environmentalist”, Lomborg argues and further seeks to prove that there is no much serious harm caused by environmental abuse by human beings. He claims that the problems like pollution of air are not very serious and it is fair to invest resources on poverty alleviation and access to clean water. Lomborg’s case was brought before the Danish committee which was involved in scientific matters of dishonesty in the wake of 2002.13 The case covered all the three areas of interest, the natural, health social and health sciences and therefore it was agreed to serve the complaints at collective meetings which were common to the committees. The committee ruled in January 2003 that Lomborg had gone outside the circles of the accepted scientific standards. Later, Lomborg appealed to the Ministry of Science and Technology and Innovations, Denmark.
In December, 2003, the Ministry ruled as per the legal aspects which involved the rationale for considering Lomborg’s book a scientific research work. The Ministry’s ruling also criticized the committee’s concept of good practice in scientific discovery. However, the Ministry left it a responsibility of the committee to decide whether the case should be reopened although this was not possible because of the legal requirements. The reason why the Committee could not reopen the case was that the committee found itself with minimal chances that new investigations would lead to great changes prior to the original ruling which acquitted Lamborg as to have committed scientific misconduct.
The operations of scientists have required the recognition of the legal system owing to the nature of the field. The competitiveness and the sensitivity of carrying out science experiments and research require some kind of regulations. Science which has intense effects on the society needs to have control of law lest scientists go about having too much freedom t do whatever they choose. The case of nuclear research in all states has to be controlled by the law to avoid scientists having to perform tasks out the accepted ethical codes. Issues of embryonic stem cell research have taken another perspective which is greatly controversial. There are ethical implications and on the other side there is an issue of saving lives. There should be a strike of balance but first considering the legal issues associated with embryonic stem cell research. These legal issues cut across all fields of science which are imperative.
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1 Shamoo, A. & Resnik, D. Responsible Conduct of Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, p.11
2 Cao, C. China’s Scientific Elite. London, Routledge, 2004
3 Steneck, N. Research Universities and Scientific Misconduct: History, Policies, and the Future. Journal of Higher Education, Vol.65, 1994, p.49
4 Palca, J. Scientific Misconduct: Ill-Defined, Redefined. The Hastings Center Report, Vol.26, 1996, p.245
5 Krebs, R. Scientific Development and Misconceptions through Ages: A Research Guide, New York, Greenwood Press, 1999, p.24
6 Bucchi, M. Science and the Media: Alternative Routes in Scientific Communication. London, Routledge, 1998, p.33
7 Hackett, E. A Social Control Perspective on Scientific Misconduct. Journal of Higher Education, Vol.65, 1994, p.66
8 Festa, R, Aliseda, A. & Jeanne, P. Cognitive Structures in Scientific Inquiry. New York, Radopi, 2005, p.14
9 Wible, J. The Economics of Science: Methodology and Epistemology as if Economics Mattered. London, Routledge, 1998, .61
10 Charles, M. investigating Scientific Misconduct: The Laboratory Is Not a Courtroom. Brookings Review, Vol.10, p.7
11 Kohn, S. Conceptions and Procedures in Whistleblower Law. Westport, CT, Quorum Books, 2001, p.38
12 Goldner, J. The Enending Saga of Legal Controls over Scientific Misconduct; a Clash of
Cultures Needing Resolution. American Journal of Law and Medicine, Vol.24, 1998, p.175
13 Cao, C. China’s Scientific Elite. London, Routledge, 2004, p.21