Postgraduate Student Resources

Impact of Ethics on the Value of Science and of Objectivity

June 12, 2014, Posted In: Postgraduate, professional development, research ethics , Venue: Room 6581-2, Academic Building

“Any achievement of greatness is a moral one,” says Prof. Bryan Karney, University of Toronto’s Associate Dean of the Cross-Disciplinary Programs. He spoke about the implications of ethics on the value of science and engineering at a special workshop hosted by the Center for Engineering Education Innovation (E2I). Together with our RPg students, the following University Research Integrity Task Force and engineering faculty members attended this special event, accompanied by Prof. Neil Mickleborough and Prof. Ben Chan.

  • Prof. Joseph Lee, Vice-President for Research and Graduate Studies (VPRG)
  • Prof. Tongxi Yu, Senior Advisor to the VPRG
  • Dr. Trevor Webb, Senior Advisor to the Executive Vice-President and Provost
  • Prof. Hong Lo, Associate Dean of Engineering
  • Prof. Mohamed Ghidaoui, Chair Professor of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Prof. Ravindra Goonetilleke, Associate Head and Professor of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Logistics Management
  • Ms. Adelaine Lim, Head of Special Projects of the Office of the VPRG

In the workshop, Prof. Karney highlighted some common dilemmas and decisions researchers encounter throughout their careers by discussing a combination of real-life case studies and controversial research questions. He examined allegations of research misconduct in research papers, specifically: fabrication, falsification, plagiarism. The audience also shared how they view the requirements for authorship and on voluntary contributions at research seminars. Prof. Karney introduced the impact of ethics through a number of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. The comic strips illustrate that ethical behavior is not just to keep out bad decisions. “Ethics is all about choices, meaningful actions, emotional engagement, [and] what matters most,” says Prof. Karney.

One of the key messages of the workshop is that living a meaningful life means interacting with others, and even valuable research cannot be conducted in isolation. Prof. Karney explained to the audience that this involves dealing with value judgments, even if they as engineers tend to be “objective” people and mistrust value judgments. Ethics is based on morals and values after all.

“Value judgments are the basis of all decisions and choices and the key motivation for most actions,” says Prof. Karney. “If you eliminate them, you also remove all values—even the value of science and of objectivity!”

Prof. Karney reminded researchers that personal accomplishment is achieved through competence, character, and chemistry. He encouraged the audience to consider two questions when they run into an ethical concern: “What would a moral researcher do? What would you want someone else to do?”

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