Miscoduct 2019-06-17T09:28:48+00:00


All systems of social control require choices about the balance to be struck between encouraging or incentivizing good behaviour and sanctioning bad behaviour. The control systems in science are no different. In general, encouraging good behaviour is to be preferred. This generally tends to be more effective. In this particular instance, it also reflects the particular problems of controlling innovation, where the innovator necessarily knows more than the regulator. A virtue-based approach to ethics and integrity seeks to stimulate self-reflection and self-restraint such as to minimize the need for regulatory interventions. Where successful, the innovator anticipates and addresses challenges in advance so that problems are avoided

It would, though, be naïve to suppose that virtue alone would be sufficient to overcome the competing incentives offered by the reward systems in science, for individuals and organizations, to be less than scrupulous in the conduct of research and the treatment of human subjects. The control system must, then, also have an element of deterrence and sanctioning. While this exists for the protection of wider social interests in preserving confidence in the reported outcomes of research, and in respect for human life and dignity, it will only command confidence if it also meets accepted standards of natural justice for those accused of misconduct.

In the design and development of a fair and acceptable control system, it is likely that the following issues will need to be dealt with:

  • Are the definitions of misconduct clear and well-communicated in advance so that miscreants cannot claim ignorance? Equally, does the system avoid punishing scientists for actions that were not considered to be misconduct at the time they were committed? Can the system learn from such actions without sanctioning those who carried them out?
  • Is investigation adequately resourced and carried out in a professional, forensic and impartial fashion by independent agents with appropriate expertise under the presumption of innocence?
  • Can investigations be triggered by a wide range of social actors who can freely express their concerns and allegations to the investigative body? Can investigations be conducted in a way that respects the professional and career impact of an accusation of wrongdoing on the alleged offender?
  • Where the investigative body finds there is a prima facie case to answer, is this evidence considered by an independent tribunal applying appropriate tests and standards of proof with the benefit of both topic-specific expertise and general forensic skills? In particular, is the alleged miscreant fully informed of the case against them and given full opportunity to confront and question witnesses, with appropriate professional support or representation?
  • Does the tribunal have available an appropriate and proportionate range of sanctions, including options for shaming and rehabilitation as well as straightforward punishment?
  • Is there a process by which tribunal decisions, on both guilt and sanctions, are able to be reviewed at a higher level?
  • Are decisions made publicly available and used to inform discussions about the contexts within which misconduct occurs and the incentives and pressures that may have given rise to it?