Research Ethics for Graduate Students

Research Ethics for Graduate Students

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Set 1: Question and Answers

Question 1: How might one justify flipping the switch in the Trolley case but not pushing the large man off the bridge in the variation?
Answer: Flipping the switch in the first case is justified because the switch operator is acting on the principle of Utilitarianism. By flipping the switch, the operator would save two people toed to the rail track and thus his actions would lead to Greatest Good for the Greatest Number (GHGN). However, in the second case where the switch-operator is faced with the situation of sacrificing the life of the fat man, then he may not be justified in doing so. This can be understood from Kant’s perspective where he believes that right thing to do is course that respects individual rights. Thus the means and the process are as important as the end. Aristotle’s principle of Virtue Ethics can be another explanation for not justifying the action of sacrificing life of the fat man. The action seems totally unjustified when seen from Virtuous Behaviour perspective.
Question 2: “Words of a language are not literally owned by anyone.” How might this bear on the question of the wrongness of plagiarism?
Answer: "Words of a language are not literally owned by anyone" would have a serious implication on the concept of plagiarism. If it is accepted that words are not literally owned by anyone then it would justify plagiarism and thus there would not be any wrong in plagiarising. However, words of a language used in academic writing matter a lot. Words when used to explain a specific concept or theory become the medium of the author to introduce his/ her ideas to the world. When used in this sense, they no longer are to be used freely by anyone as they become the copyright of the author who used them to explain his/ her concept. For example, When Einstein first introduced the general theory of Relativity and produced Relativity Equation, E=mc2, then the theory became so popular that words as "Relativity" became associated with Einstein forever. If anyone wants to improvise on the theory need to acknowledge the theory proposed by Einstein and any plagiarism would become intolerable in the academic and scientific domain. Thus words of a language used to define a theory or concept definitely become copyright of the person proposing the concept and it would be considered plagiarism if these words are used as it is without acknowledging the original scientist or author.

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Question 3: What's one reason for thinking that plagiarism is wrong?
Answer: The most important reason for thinking Plagiarism is wrong is that it is against the virtue of honesty. Although the plagiarizee may not bother much about stealing someone’s ideas, yet it is morally and ethically wrong to do so. It not only deprives the original author the credit he/ she deserves, but it ultimately vitiates the entire atmosphere of research ultimately by bringing about stagnation in the research ideas. If people keep on using each others’ ideas without contributing anything new to the research realm, then the entire future of research is at stake. The entire process of gradual death of research due to plagiarism has been depicted below in form of a diagram:
Question 4: Stanley Fish compares rules forbidding plagiarism to the rules of golf. Why?
Answer: The explanation for Stanley Fish using the example of Golf to explain the rules forbidding plagiarism can be two-fold.
1. The first reason for drawing the similarities between Golf and Plagiarism is the particular nature of the game. Golf is a peculiar sport which has very specific and severe rules which are practically unimaginable by people outside this game. Thus unlike games like cricket, football or baseball which have certain universal rules, Golf rules are more "in-house". Taking the analogy to Plagiarism, this particular act of plagiarism is an insiders' obsession (as used by Fish). It matters more in professions where originality means a lot and there are clear-cut boundary lines between the final product of two scientists or academics. On the other hand, professions like that of a musician, novelist or painter where boundary lines are smudged and thus unlike Golf, they do not have severe specific rules.
X comes up with a novel idea and publishes it
Y copies X's ideas and publishes X's work without acknowleding him
The process of plagirism continues with every new researcher
Research is stagnant
Research realm is vitiated and its future at stake as no new research happens rather a repetion of old research
Violation of virtue of Honesty. Action is morally wrong.
Morally wrong actions of stealing; theft
Death of ethics in research
Gradual death of research itself
2. The second reason for this analogy is that both Golf and Plagiarism assume that if there is a violation of a rule, then it is not violation of moral rule, rather of a non-moral rule. It is definitely a breach of disciplinary decorum but not breach of morality. Even if a person is caught plagiarising, he may be penalised but there is no blot on his/ her soul. And better still, if the person is not caught, he may not even be penalised and let free.
Question 5: What's one reason for thinking that close personal relationships between advisors and advisees should be avoided?
Answer: An important reason (and in my view the sole reason) for thinking that close personal relationships between advisors and advisees should be avoided is that it may affect the quality of research. Since the assessment of research work should be objective, the close relations between the supervisor and supervisee may interfere with the fairplay and may introduce certain bias which can have detrimental effects on the final outcome (i.e. the actual production of thesis).
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