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Learning and Teaching Scientific Ethics

For years, graduate students and postdocs funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grants and fellowships have been required to take instruction in the responsible conduct of research (RCR), or scientific ethics. Following the NIH's lead, some institutions have elected to include all their science trainees in this obligation. And pretty soon, institutions may not have a choice--the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) posted a new regulation on their Web site in December 2000 mandating that all scientists funded from Public Health Service grants receive training in RCR (see past Next Wave article). Although this regulation was put on hold following a congressional inquiry (see past Next Wave article), more and more universities are inaugurating ethics courses so they won't be caught with their pants down when the final version of the ORI regulation is announced.

Thousands of scientists will be affected once the new regulation goes into effect, including students, postdocs, and faculty. And even if your stipend doesn't come from the Public Health Service, your school may soon require an RCR course for all scientists. So, as part of our ongoing focus on Ethics in Science, Next Wave explores what it is like to take and design scientific ethics courses.

At first, Elizabeth Leffel wasn't too pleased when her Virginia Commonwealth University thesis committee "suggested" she take an RCR course. But she learned a lot and found that she continues to contemplate scientific ethics long after the course ended.

Mark Murray knew he was going to learn the latest genetic technologies in graduate school, but he hadn't considered all the ethical implications of this research--until he took two required classes at Meharry Medical College that explored ethics and responsible scientific conduct.

As Rae Nishi and her colleagues at Oregon Health and Science University's School of Medicine found, it can be tough to put together a stimulating ethics course ... particularly if you want to avoid sounding too much like the students' mothers.

Intrigued? Well, read the essays in this week's minifeature. And if you want to find out more about ethics and RCR training, then a good place to start would be at either one of these two Web sites:

The Office of Research Integrity. ORI's site provides the latest information on regulations for training in ethics, as well as policies on scientific misconduct. Attention faculty--ORI's "Responsible Conduct of Research" page includes links to teaching materials!

NIH. The NIH's "Bioethics Resources on the Web" page has many valuable links you'll want to add to your bookmarks. Clicking on "Tutorials, Case Studies, and Courses" will take you to another list of teaching resources from the NIH and other institutions.

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