Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 447–457 | Cite as

The University and the Responsible Conduct of Research: Who is Responsible for What?

  • Katherine Alfredo
  • Hillary HartEmail author


Research misconduct has been thoroughly discussed in the literature, but mainly in terms of definitions and prescriptions for proper conduct. Even when case studies are cited, they are generally used as a repository of “lessons learned.” What has been lacking from this conversation is how the lessons of responsible conduct of research are imparted in the first place to graduate students, especially those in technical fields such as engineering. Nor has there been much conversation about who is responsible for what in training students in Responsible Conduct of Research or in allocating blame in cases of misconduct. This paper explores three seemingly disparate cases of misconduct—the 2004 plagiarism scandal at Ohio University; the famous Robert Millikan article of 1913, in which his reported data selection did not match his notebooks; and the 1990 fabrication scandal in Dr. Leroy Hood’s research lab. Comparing these cases provides a way to look at the relationship between the graduate student (or trainee) and his/her advisor (a relationship that has been shown to be the most influential one for the student) as well as at possibly differential treatment for established researchers and researchers-in-training, in cases of misconduct. This paper reflects on the rights and responsibilities of research advisers and their students and offers suggestions for clarifying both those responsibilities and the particularly murky areas of research-conduct guidelines.


Research misconduct Responsible conduct of research Engineering graduate students ORI Falsification Intuition 



The authors would like to thank the National Science Foundation for their support (Grant 0629475) of the literature review reported here; a review has become the basis of our ongoing original research. We would also like to acknowledge the wonderful work of the other two co-PIs on that grant, Steven Nichols and Christy Moore, as well as graduate research assistant Tom Benton.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental EngineeringThe University of TexasAustinUSA

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