Research ethics

Written by Savannah Jordan, MPH candidate and graduate research assistant at Saint Louis University; and participant of the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Dr. Robert “Bob” Mercer, PhD, Professor, Cell Biology and Physiology, did the impossible, and I’m not talking in relation to proteins and enzymes. He was able to make an hour and a half lecture on ethics both entertaining and informative.

Dr. Mercer included many of his own personal experiences with research ethics, in addition to, bizarre situations that have occurred with questionable ethical behavior and facts about research ethics. These anecdotes included stories about morally compromised individuals such as former graduate student, Ted Strelesksi who murdered his faculty advisor and former PhD candidate, Adam Savine, who falsified his research and was consequently exiled from the research community. Dr. Mercer was also not shy about calling out prestigious universities, even one in my home state of North Carolina, when discussing fraud in research.

Moral of the story – be honest, be careful, have respect, and ooze integrity.

There was a huge emphasis placed on scientists’ obligation to the public to provide truthful, unbiased, moral, and socially valuable information. The public invests in us as researchers and expects a return on their investment. Apparently public opinion has placed researchers on a prestigious pedestal fully equipped with high regard and respect. Interestingly enough, Dr. Mercer pointed out that our pedestal is a smidge higher than doctors, and even more surprising, higher than clergy. Who would’ve guessed it?

Fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism are not things taken lightly in the research community, so just don’t do it. It’s ok to be wrong, but no one likes a liar. Moral of the story – be honest, be careful, have respect, and ooze integrity. Don’t be like Adam Savine, and definitely don’t be like Ted Streleski.