Truth and Trustworthiness in Research

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Truth and Trustworthiness in Research”*

Caroline Whitbeck

Science and Engineering Ethics 1, (December 1995): 403-416.

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*This is an edited version of the original paper. […] indicates where material has been removed.
We have recently reached a watershed in the research community's consideration of the ethics of research. The way is now open for a more nuanced discussion than the one of the last decade which was dominated by attention to legal and quasi-legal procedures for handling misconduct.1 The new discussion of ethical issues focused on trustworthiness takes us beyond consideration of conduct that is straightforwardly permitted, forbidden or required, to consideration of criteria for the responsible as contrasted with negligent or reckless behavior.
This paper develops an overview of the subject of trustworthiness among researchers. It illustrates and discusses various types of betrayal and defections in research conduct, and locates these in relation to many of the situations discussed elsewhere in this issue.
Beginning with the breeches of trust that constitute major wrongdoing in research (research misconduct), I argue that these are more often examples of negligence or recklessness than they are of “fraud.” Acts of negligence and recklessness figure not only in misconduct, narrowly defined, but in many lesser betrayals and defections that undermine trust. The presence or absence of an intentional deception is not a sure indicator of the seriousness of some moral lapse. Such a lapse, where it does occur, may be simply a particularly poor response to perennially difficult research responsibility. Finally, I consider trust and trustworthiness among collaborating researchers and a range of intentional and unintentional behaviors that influence the character of these trust relationships. The supervisor-supervisee relationship is of particular significance because it is both a difficult area of responsibility for the supervisor and because this relationship is formative for a new researcher's subsequent expectations and behavior.

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