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Scientific Misconduct Discussed At Seminar for Interns

By Cynthia Delgado

"How many of you know someone who has plagiarized?" asked Dr. Howard Young to students attending the NCI-Frederick Summer Seminar Series at Ft. Detrick. An astounding 75-85 percent of the audience raised their hands. This alarming response is one Young observes all too often in his talks with area students. He thinks it highlights the need for making students, teachers and all sectors of the scientific community aware of ethical concerns in the conduct of science.

While seminar students had lunch, Young, who is head of the cellular and molecular immunology section, Laboratory of Experimental Immunology, NCI, reviewed the federal definition of scientific misconduct — "fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing or reviewing research, or in reporting research results." Next he gave an explanation of why misconduct might occur. "In science, you are judged by how productive you are," he said. He noted the expectation that all postdocs face at the outset of their careers — becoming first authors on at least one paper in a major scientific journal. With so much pressure, some individuals "will succumb to fabrication of data," he added.

Dr. Howard Young

Students also got a heads-up on major ethical issues that could arise in a research career. Young divided these into six areas: data management, publication practices, collaborations, peer review and privileged information, financial conflicts of interest and human subjects research. Providing examples in each area, he offered a realistic view and a deeper understanding of scientific misconduct matters. For example, Young used an autoradiographic film from his own research to demonstrate how easily data could be manipulated by simply changing the sample labels. He reminded students that research results must be repeatable and pass the scrutiny of peer review by fellow scientists.

Young concluded the seminar by leading a discussion about real-life dilemmas in the conduct of science. Participants role-played different scenarios and discovered the contrasting viewpoints and difficult decisions that may arise.

By making students aware of ethical issues in research, Young hopes we can better prepare future scientists for the challenges they may face, and subsequently safeguard our nation's health.

Young is a member of the NIH Speakers Bureau and talks frequently to students, schools and other community groups about science ethics and other topics. He is also a member of the NIH committee on scientific conduct and ethics.

Review the NIH policy on research ethics at

A shocking proportion of the lecture audience owns up to being aware of contemporaries who are plagiarists.

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