Ethical issues in astronomy education, research and enterprise

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Instructor: Prof. Paul Kalas

Astronomers encounter a series of ethical dilemmas during their careers that need to be resolved correctly if the integrity of the field is to be preserved. These issues may arise while teaching, conducting research, or leading large, long-term projects or missions. The goal of this graduate seminar is to sharpen ethical reasoning, knowledge, awareness and commitment by providing a fundamental background in responsible conduct as a scientist. Among the topics covered: (1) Mentoring, (2) Data management, (3) Peer review, (4) Authorship, (5) Intellectual property, (6) Conflicts of interest and commitment, (7) Research misconduct, (8) Dual use technologies, (9) Diversity, equity and inclusion,  and (10) Environmental and cultural impacts.

Participants should expect weekly reading and writing assignments,  such as the analysis and development of case studies,  and plenty of opportunity for discussion.

For example, here is my list of nine warning signs for research misconduct:

The Warning Signs of Research Misconduct 

(Falsifying and/or fabricating data, measurements, calculations, models, interpretations, and conclusions.)

  1. Data reduction and measurements are produced much more quickly than recent research work by established experts. E.g., the experimental results take a few weeks rather than the years it took others (e.g., the Theranos blood test).
  2. When the methods are examined by others, they find that shortcuts have been taken, measurements and calculation have not been double-checked, and there is an absence of work to falsify the results or to test for simpler explanations.
  3. The experiment produces new facts that are very different from recent research work by established experts.
  4. When the experimenter is questioned about #1–#3, they respond with written arguments rather than producing new, supporting data or measurements (i.e., with words, not actions).
  5. When the experimenter is sent new data that could change or falsify the conclusions, they ignore the new data (they do not make measurements with it).
  6. When the experimenter is told of other methods or tests that could change or falsify their conclusions, they respond that other methods or tests are irrelevant or of insignificant value.
  7. When the experimenter is told of prior results in the literature, the experimenter is found to only have knowledge of, or puts a singular emphasis on the literature supporting the experimental results, lacking knowledge or downplaying the literature at variance with the experimental results.
  8. Collaborators discretely drop out of the project or decline co-authorship.
  9. When bias or research misconduct is explicitly alleged, the experimenter does not respond at all, or responds with counter-accusations (as opposed to exploring the possible biases in order to temper or qualify the significance of the questioned experimental results).
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