Can old professors learn new tricks?

A matter of trust, by Christie Rizk, is about fraud and scientific misconduct. In many cases of science misconduct, trainees (postdocs and graduate students) are eventually “convicted”. One might conclude that trainees are therefore more likely than people further up the ladder to commit misconduct. One might reason this is because they have less to lose and more to gain. Universities and institutions tasked with addressing Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) might therefore target trainees with their initiatives to prevent misconduct, by requiring ethics classes and RCR training.

Or is it that their role models are more skilled at getting away with it? It has always bothered me that only trainees are required to take these classes. Universities argue that trainees are the “low hanging fruit”. With so many demands on their time, they reason, it is impossible to require faculty to complete RCR training. The trainees will one day be faculty so eventually, the faculty will consist of people who have completed RCR training (but will they remember their training from 20 years ago?)

In “A Matter of Trust”, Ms. Rizk interviewed Aine Donovan, director of Dartmouth College Ethics Institute. I think we’re doing a really good job right now with undergrads, graduates, and postdocs,” she quotes Donovan, “but then someone goes into a lab with a 62-year-old lab director who’s kind of a moral reprobate, and all that goes out the window.” Donovan believes that principal investigators need the same RCR training that trainees get.

This seems obvious to me, but this is the first time I’ve seen the sentiment expressed by someone with authority. Thank you Dr. Donovan!

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