Our attributes and moral values shape who we are and what we become. While there are no unique moral values that are associated with conduct in scientific research, there are certainly value systems that are inherently required to a greater degree in order to achieve success in this field. Listed below are some of these moral values:
Objectivity: Scientists are deep thinkers and they thrive in seeking knowledge regarding the unknown. A closed mind cannot see the hidden truth. It is very important that conclusions are based on evidence gathered from intelligently designed experiments that do not conceal the truth in anyway. Thus, the best scientists are the ones who incorporate objectivity into their thinking. For example, it took an open-minded scientist like Galileo Galilei to go beyond the traditional paradigm that the earth is not flat. Objectivity is also evident from the actions of many great scientists who determined that light behaves both like a wave and a particle, or those who determined that conduction of nerve impulses is both electrical and chemical in nature.
Accuracy: This value is required primarily during the stages of experimental design and data recording. Our sole purpose is not to merely state a hypothesis, and generate data that is supportive of it. Often the data generated is not up to our expectations, but if the experiment has been accurately executed, then “the data is the data.” This means to say that we have to accurately collect and interpret the data.
Persistence/Patience: Scientific research takes a lot of time, and so patience is a key behavioral attribute that all researchers should have in abundance. Every single experiment performed may not necessarily yield good and accurate results that support the experimental hypothesis. This is either due to a learning curve in performing the experiment fruitfully, or in controlling parameters optimally. Mastering these tasks usually require determination and persistence. Researchers should have the ability to perform the task repeatedly, which takes time and patience, until they get it right. In my experience with training undergraduate research students, I have seen how dismayed they are when results are not generated with every single experiment and quickly enough.
Skepticism: This may sound like a negative trait but for good scientific conduct it is important to be your own worst critic. Specifically, being hard on your own data because the process of publication involves peer review, where the data gathered is critiqued before it maybe published. Post publication too there may be critics for a given data set. However, as long as we as scientists have gone through rigorous rounds of critiques and are convinced, it becomes part of the process to be able to defend the findings. Skepticism from one’s self and peers helps crystallize the truth.
Accountability: As rewarding as research can be, it comes with accountability, i.e., being responsible for the implications of one’s research. For example, with the advent of Biotechnology, it has been possible to generate genetically modified (GM) crops with higher nutritional content to satisfy the dietary needs of poverty stricken places. There is now a lot of awareness of the impacts of GM crops on human health and the environment. Maybe some of these concerns are not valid, while some are. Part of being accountable for the research is to provide freedom to access information regarding the nature of the genetic modification, and have an open forum to discuss negative impacts/concerns.
Independent/Individualistic: Independence is a trait highly regarded in this discipline. While the research outcome often arises out of a collaborative effort, being able to think independently within the capacity of one’s strengths will only lead to a better outcome as a whole. Research requires a lot of personal sacrifices and many scientists are also loners by choice, which I think reflects their individualism and independence.
Finally, it takes a combination of all the above moral values to achieve good scientific conduct. It takes time to imbibe these values and there is a constant learning curve. I don’t believe that everyone can have them all, but we must aspire to attain them in order to bring out our best in scientific research.
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