Chabot College - Astronomy Worksheet- Scott Hildreth

Ethics and Science

"I al oro asimismo decian que era lagrimas que el Sol llorava" -Cieza De Leon  
(And of gold it is also said that it's the tears that the Sun cries)

Missing or Incomplete citations receive zero credit.

ethics: (n). 1. A principle of right or good conduct. 2. A system of moral principles or values. 3. The rules or standards governing the conduct of the members of a profession. (American Heritage Dictionary, 1976.)

Please start by reading Ethics in Science by Henry Bauer available online at  Discuss the concepts with a friend, colleague, someone in your family, or another member of the class.

Then, read the following situation.  And decide individually if each of the following scientific activities is ethical, and if you decide they are not, explain why you feel the activity is not ethical. Record your observations and those of your discussion partner. Pay careful attention to where your answers are different from those of your partner, and why.   Refer to what Bauer discussed in your response
Turn in a typed, spell-checked essay of at least 250 words with your observations, and your explanations.   Please note you can if you want POST your assignment on Blackboard (and you are encouraged to do so if you can't make it to class.) 

The situation: Scientists recently announced that a meteorite found in Antarctica, which clearly originated from Mars. The rock was probably blown into space from the surface of Mars during a volcanic event or meteor impact, and after many years drifted into Earth's gravitational field, and ultimately hit our planet. The specimen was analyzed and found to contain small cavities and microfossils similar to those found in Earth rocks which are created by elementary single-celled organisms. This announcement created significant controversy in the scientific community, as you might imagine. Did the Mars rock show life existed at some time on that planet? Was the research flawed -- the specimen contaminated, or the results mis-interpreted? Imagine in this context:

  1. Scientist "A" publishes her findings about life on Mars in a peer-reviewed journal, holds a press conference, then releases her data to peers.  (Note! If you aren't familiar with a "peer-reviewed scientific journal", please see the information and links below.)
  2. Another scientist "B" reads about the results of "A", and tries to duplicate results without telling "A" about the trials.
  3. Scientist "C" writes a review article about the discovery of life on Mars, but had nothing himself to do with the discovery. "C" cites the work done by "A".
  4. Scientist "D" is interviewed by the local media about the discovery, and mentions the evidence but apparently does not cite the work done by "A".
  5. Scientist "E" reads the article, sees the conference, and then derides and condemns "A" for jumping to conclusions, without yet seeing the data. "E" is interviewed and publishes an article about why the data are probably wrong.


More About Scientific Ethics and Peer Review

Wikipedia has an interesting article about peer review you might want to check out.  Other articles of interest include:

Stern, J. Elliott, (1997) The Ethics of Scientific Research. University Press of New England. Dartmouth University. Retrieved 11/5/13 from

On Being a Scientist. Responsible Conduct in Research. (1995) Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. National Academy Press.

"Peer Review." Understanding Science. University of California Museum of Paleontology. 3 January 2013

Sense About Science. (2004) "I don't know what to believe."  Accessed 11/9/13 from

Stemwedel (2008, Aug 12) Peer Review and Science. Adventures in Ethics and Science. Accessed 11/9/13 from 

United Kingdom Parliament (7 July 2004)  THE ORIGIN OF THE SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL AND THE PROCESS OF PEER REVIEW. House of Commons Publications.  Select Committee on Written Evidence. Appendix 20 Memorandum from the Publishers Assocation. Annex 1. .Accessed 1/8/09 from and excerpted below:



Learned publishing by means of the journal first began in the mid 17th century. Henry Oldenburg created the world's first scientific journal for the newly founded Royal Society of London (of whom he was first Joint Secretary) in March 1665 to solve a number of problems faced by early scientists. Principal among these was the desire to establish precedence: the first authors of a phenomenon or result wanted their priority as discoverer to be publicly acknowledged and secured before they were prepared to share their results with their colleagues. Oldenburg realised that an independent periodical publication run by an independent third-party that would faithfully record the name of a discoverer, the date the paper was submitted and a description of the discovery could resolve this dilemma for the pioneering scientists of his age. Philosophical Transactions, the journal Oldenburg set up for members of the Royal Society (but at his own financial risk and profit) did exactly this. In its monthly issues, it registered the name of the authors and date that they sent their manuscripts to Oldenburg as well as recording their discoveries, thereby securing the priority for first authors and encouraging them to share their results with others, safe in the knowledge that their "rights" as "first discoverers" were protected by so doing. Philosophical Transactions from its outset did not publish all the material it received; the Council of the Society reviewed the contributions Oldenburg received before approving a selection of them for publication. Albeit primitive, this is the first recorded instance of "peer review". It was quickly realised by Oldenburg's contemporaries that the accumulating monthly issues of the journal also represented a record of the transactions of science of archival value.

  The four functions of Oldenburg's journal: registration, dissemination, peer review and archival record are so fundamental to the way scientists behave and how science is carried out that all subsequent journals, even those published electronically in the 21st century, have conformed to Oldenburg's model. All modern journals carry out the same functions as Oldenburg's and all journal publishers are Oldenburg's heirs.

  The journal article performs a unique role in scholarship. It is an on-the-record, validated public statement of the claims made by its authors, like a witness statement under oath in the court of scientific opinion. It occupies a central position in terms of the wider set of possible communication modes that a researcher may adopt (oral presentations at conferences, early draft versions of a paper (preprints), an evaluated review article of other research articles in a field, a scholarly monograph or textbook). It is the evaluated (that is, peer reviewed) public, formal and final nature of the published journal article that make it so important to its authors, their individual standing and their career prospects


Last Updated: 10/15 - SH

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