Truth and Trustworthiness in Research

Ethics & Competence in Trustworthy Behavior

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Ethics & Competence in Trustworthy Behavior
Consider the trust required for one member of a research team to use materials such as reagents, devices or computer programs, prepared by another member of the team, or the trust required for a researcher to base the design of a new project on results obtained by another laboratory. From the trusted party the truster needs attention, concern, fairness, and competence as well as honesty. Emphasizing all of these factors is necessary because trustworthiness has too often been treated as the absence of deception.8
Writers on trust frequently suggest that trust is necessary because the trusting party cannot control or monitor the trusted party's performance. It is certainly true that the inability to control or monitor behavior is an element in the need for trust. Laboratory heads frequently candidly admit that the volume of data collected in their laboratories makes it impossible for them to personally check even their own graduate students research results; and would attempt to do so only if some reason were presented to doubt a result. Therefore, the circumstances that, at least according to some,9 set the stage for misconduct, are now increasingly common. However, trust is also required in many situations in which one party could not evaluate another's behavior even if the first could monitor the behavior of the second.
Limits on the efficacy of monitoring is especially clear where research collaborators come from different disciplines. Two researchers from different disciplines engage in a collaboration would not benefit from full prescience of the other's actions, or even the ability to guide the other's behavior. Although one collaborator might be able to recognize some acts of gross incompetence or malfeasance on the part of the other, neither collaborator would fully understand the implications of all that she saw the other do and might have little idea of how to improve the other's performance. […] In the many circumstances of collaboration, responsible conduct has no adequate substitute. In particular, although audits of research behavior10 can document untrustworthy behavior, they cannot eliminate it.

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