I myself do sincerely believe that most scientists are totally honest, just as they should be. Why would any scientist ever elect to ignore professional ethics and cheat or be dishonest? I think it likely that most unethical scientists do not really decide to be dishonest, but rather feel pushed into it. There are many different factors and circumstances that cause and push some weaker individual scientists to cross the boundary between honesty and dishonesty. These include: personal attributes and character defects, being surrounded by others who engage in dishonesty, employment in an institution that has only a superficial commitment to scientific research, working under an atmosphere where money rules all, not being internally strong enough to deal with all the external pressures involved with the research grant system, etc. Such problematic situations can readily generate a very large pressure where some few individuals try to deal with their difficulties by taking the easy way out. Fortunately, most research scientists are able to remain strictly honest in these same situations, and are determined to avoid corruption at all times. Nevertheless, history shows that some scientists do cheat (see my recent post on “Introduction to Cheating and Corruption in Science” within the Basic Introductions category).
For scientists, vexing difficulties with time management and handling research grants are major generators raising the pressure to cheat. I have already described the overly busy life of scientists working as university faculty (see my recent post on “Why is the Daily Life of Modern University Scientists So Very Hectic?” in the Scientists category). There are only about 18 hours per day for research scientists working in universities to handle laboratory work, teaching activities, supervision of graduate students and lab employees, writing and reading, preparation of abstracts for annual science meetings, family life, outside interests, etc., etc. (see my earlier post on “What Do University Scientists Really Do in their Daily Work?” in the Basic Introductions category). This condition with its many deadlines frequently creates job difficulties in time management (= “the time problem”) that can become very problematic.
Failure of an academic scientist to get a research grant renewed means loss of laboratory space assignment, loss of graduate students, additional teaching duties, and decay of professional reputation. Yes, this does actually happen! Anything at all that will aid in getting a new grant, assist in having a research grant renewed, or produce more research publications might for certain individuals seem like a gift from heaven, but the use of dishonesty really is the opposite. Some universities push their faculty scientists to obtain several research grants, thereby greatly increasing the pressure of job difficulties with the research grant system (= “the money problem”). For universities, additional grant awards mean more business profits, greater productivity from more publications means more status, and, improvements in their research reputation and renown mean more students and more opportunities. The granting agencies themselves further increase these pressures by some of their present policies, particularly those that provide funding for only 1-5 years of laboratory work, thereby necessitating more frequent applications by research scientists. The total struggle to get and maintain research grant funding often is so intense and takes up so much time and effort by so many faculty scientists, that I term it a hyper-competition. Modern scientists in academia are subject to pressure from both the time and money problems, but only some less dedicated individuals succumb and engage in unethical behavior as they try to deal with these job situations.
Unlike the widespread dishonesty and corruption currently seen in business and politics, very fewscientists engage in corrupt practices as a means to add dollars to their bank account. Nevertheless, personal greed still is involved with any intent to obtain more grant money and more professional advantages through dishonest means. Greed is involved with those who dishonestly obtain the award of a research grant, because that means that there then is less money available to fund other scientists who are deserving and honest. Personal greed, along with excesses of such perfectly normal and good human characteristics as ambition, desire for improved status, eagerness in seeking increased prestige, and, striving to improve one’s lot in life, all can play important roles in determining whether any individual scientist will cross the line separating honesty from dishonesty.
All scientists performing laboratory studies within universities have to acquire a research grant award in order to pay for their research expenses. This recently has created a new dimension for dihonesty in science: cheating on applications for research grants. University scientists frequently ask one or more experienced faculty colleagues who are very successful with acquiring research grant awards to criticize their prospective applications. Others go beyond this very useful practice and seek assistance by submitting the draft text with their ideas and plans for new experiments to professional editors or commercial advisors, in order to improve their presentation; so long as those experts only rework and polish what is furnished by theapplying scientist, that is honest (i.e., this seems analogous to a professional baker who makes a very large multilayered cake and then hires some specialist to put frosting and elaborate decorations onto it). A typical example is when foreign-born scientists either ask a university colleague or pay an editor to find and correct errors in their English language expression within grant applications they have composed. All of the above practices are widespread and seem to be perfectly honest. On the other hand, using external experts to design and organize new experiments, create the research proposal and schedule, compose the bulk of the application, etc., then crosses the line between rught vs. wrong and must be considered to be dishonest, unprofessional, and condemnable. Readers should note that after any applicant signs their own name onto an application that actually was authored by someone else, it is nearly impossible to detect this fraud just by inspecting the submitted documents. Cheating and dishonesty on grant applications are directly encouraged by the enormous pressures to get more grant awards put onto the very busy faculty scientists working in universities (see my earlier post on “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” in the Money & Grants category).
To answer the question posed in the title, some few scientists do cheat because they believe that tactic will help to get them a personal reward or provide relief from difficult job pressures. The specific causes for corruption in science involve certain situations: (1) defects in the personal character and professional dedication of individual scientists, (2) the particular job environment, and (3) the current federal research grant system. The large job pressures of being a modern faculty scientist trying to deal with the money problem and the time problem directly push some weaker researchers to become corrupt in their efforts to achieve job success.
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