University of Minnesota
Institute of Technology
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Electrical and Computer Engineering

Issues in Ethics Education

Joachim Heberlein, PhD
University of Minnesota - Mechanical Engineering

The National Science Foundation has as a new requirement for funding research projects that every participant on the project has received some training in research ethics. The University of Minnesota has instituted the Responsible Conduct of Research training for Principal Investigators and a requirement for ethics training of all graduate students, and should therefore be well positioned in meeting the NSF requirement. However, recent headlines in the local newspaper accuse University researchers of inappropriate treatment of research data. Also, incidents of plagiarism in the research community have been increasing and are widely reported in the press. Issues in research ethics are rarely black or white, there is frequently a difference in opinion of what is right or wrong. Codes of ethical conduct exist on several levels, professional societies have their codes, most institutions have codes of conduct, and every person has a code of conduct based on faith and social environment. Conflicts between these different codes may arise in particular when the codes are originating from different cultural backgrounds. In our multi-cultural environment, education in research ethics should provide an awareness of this potential for conflict, and an open discussion in a group setting seems to be the most appropriate venue. Some hypothetical examples that turned out to become reality will illustrate this point.