Category Archives: Ethics

Academic freedom issue at Appalachian State

The News & Observer ( reports today on a controversy involving the Appalachian State administration and a tenured Sociology professor:

Linda Foulsham, director of equity, diversity and compliance, on Dr. Jammie Price: “Her pedagogy appears to be consistently confrontational, belittling, angry, critical, and destructive of the potential for a valuable educational experience for her students. Whether or not students felt demeaned or harassed based on their race, sex, political affiliation, status as an athlete or status as an Appalachian student, there is a consistent pattern of Dr. Price making students feel uncomfortable.”

Dr. Price on the Appalachian State administration: “The whole experience here at App State has been, it’s like going back in time. It’s like it’s 1950 here. … It’s a club. They do whatever they want to do. If a woman says that’s not how it should be or expresses discontent, they put her in her place.”

Reminder: Summer conferences include ethics workshop, nanomanufacturing

North Carolina A&T will be involved with two significant events for researchers in August. If you’re interested in either one, now is the time to register.

  • Ethical Dimensions of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Research: Monday August 13-Tuesday August 14, all day each day, Fort IRC, Room 410.  N.C. A&T and Penn State faculty will conduct a this workshop for A&T faculty, post-docs, and doctoral students in the sciences and engineering who are interested in integrating the ethical dimensions of coupled natural and human systems into their classes. Registration continues through July 15.
  • Nanomanufacturing conference: Wednesday, August 15, all day, at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering. Nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing are creating jobs in clean energy, aerospace, medicine and biotech, materials and other areas. The Nanomanufacturing Conference is one of the nation’s premier Advanced Manufacturing conferences, featuring national and international nanotech innovators, leading researchers, government leaders and visionaries.

Aug. workshop on teaching ethical dimensions of coupled natural and human systems

National Science Foundation logoFaculty members from North Carolina A&T and Penn State will conduct a two-day workshop for A&T faculty, post-docs, and doctoral students in the sciences and engineering who are interested in integrating the ethical dimensions of coupled natural and human systems into their classes.

The “Ethical Dimensions of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Research” workshop will be held on campus August 13-14. Location and times will be announced soon. Details on the event are here. Funding is provided by the National Science Foundation.

The workshop is designed to improve pedagogical methods and capacity-building strategies.  Researchers will learn how to incorporate research ethics content into existing curriculum and will acquire the ability to develop content tailored to their area of expertise.

A&T faculty members sponsoring the workshop are Dr. Keith Schimmel, chairman of the Department of Energy and Environmental Systems (EES); Dr. Luba Kurkalova, Department of Economics and EES; and Dr. Yengeniy Rastigeyev, Department of Mathematics and EES.

Contact Schimmel,, 285-2329, by July 15 to register or for more information. You must reserve a spot to attend.  There is no charge for the workshop.  It is open only to N.C. A&T researchers.

Worth reading: A rash of scientific retraction

From today’s edition of The Boston Globe:

“Despite assaults on the science of global warming and evolution, the real threat to research these days may be coming from within. Last year set a record for retractions from the scientific literature, with some 400 in recognized scientific journals. This year looks on pace to meet or possibly even exceed that mark. …

“The trend is clear: Journals today are retracting more than 10 times as many articles each year than they did a decade ago, while publishing only about 50 percent more studies than before.”

A few good long reads for a long weekend

A varied selection of longer pieces from the news media for those interested in spending some Easter weekend time reading:

Disgrace: On Marc Hauser (The Nation): “Scientific misconduct is often difficult to detect. Although grant applications and research papers submitted to prestigious journals are rigorously reviewed, it is very difficult for a reviewer to uncover fabrication or falsification. … Sometimes fraud is detected by a careful examination of published papers revealing multiply published or doctored illustrations; more often it is uncovered by the perpetrator’s students or other members of his laboratory.

The Two-Year Window (The New Republic): “The new science of babies and brains—and how it could revolutionize the fight against poverty.”

African agriculture: Dirt poor (Nature): “African governments, international donors and scientists all agree that farmers must revitalize their soils. But there is passionate debate about how to do it. Many African governments and agricultural scientists argue that large doses of inorganic fertilizers are the most practical solution. But others, such the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, are pushing for greener, cheaper solutions, such as no-till farming that conserves soil and ‘fertilizer plants’ that boost the soil’s nitrogen content organically. Researchers report that these latter techniques are beginning to raise yields and improve soil fertility. But farmers are slow to adopt such practices, which require significantly more labour.”

The mistrial of LeBron James (ESPN The Magazine):” Ask most anyone who LeBron James is and you’re likely to get a blunt reply delivered with great conviction. Choker. God. Traitor. Hero. Arrogant. Generous. Undisciplined. Underappreciated. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone is in disagreement. And over the course of this afternoon in Miami, they all will be proved right — and therefore all be proved wrong.

Elsevier’s practices, politics spur scientists’ boycott

Update: The number researchers boycotting Elsevier is now over 5,000.  There’s also a graphic representation of Dr. Gowers’s position.

Researchers across many disciplines and around the world are taking action against the business practices of academic publishing giant Elsevier, and the movement’s momentum may be carrying it toward a critical mass.  Some 4,900 scientists around the world have signed a statement refusing to publish in, edit for and/or referee for the company’s 2,000 journals.

It’s old news that its critics find Elsevier’s high subscription costs and expensive bundling policies unethical. But today there’s a political issue as well, as detailed in an op-ed column in The Boston Globe:

“Now Elsevier is supporting an odious bit of legislation known as the Research Works Act. Currently, the National Institutes of Health has a rule: If the American people pay for research, then they should be able to see the results without paying again. This is simple fairness. Yet the legislation would end that policy, further boosting Elsevier’s profits by locking important biomedical research, the stuff of life and death, behind paywalls.”

The movement’s current surge appears to have been generated by the high-profile British mathematician Timothy Gowers. His original blog post last month has generated at least 315 responses and inspired the creation of The Cost of Knowledge website.

Worth noting: Elsevier is the contractor/developer for the Reach NC faculty database.

Florida State University gives billionaire donor right to oversee hiring of faculty in econ program

From The St. Petersburg Times:

“A conservative billionaire who opposes government meddling in business has bought a rare commodity: the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.

“A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting ‘political economy and free enterprise.'”

Click here for the full story.  Amazingly, the deal has been in place since 2008, but until now apparently no one has raised any questions about it.

Assessing the damage in Yankaskas case

The News & Observer wraps up the story of Dr. Bonnie Yankaskas of UNC-CH and the computer security breach that cost the epidemiologist her job and a significant amount of money.  It also put the future of her 15-year research project, the Carolina Mammography Registry, in doubt.

UNC-CH, Yankaskas reach settlement

UNC-CH has settled a case in which it was attempting to fire a faculty member over the the hacking of a cancer research database.  Dr. Bonnie Yankaskas has agreed to retire, and the university has agreed to restore her rank and salary, which were reduced in the wake of the hacking of her project’s database.  The UNC-CH campus newspaper reported this week that the settlement was announced last Friday.  In 2009, it was discovered that the personal information of some 180,000 patients and research subjects had been exposed when a hacker successfully attacked the database of the Carolina Mammography Registry. Yankaskas, as the PI on the project, was held responsible.  She contended that the security of her database wasn’t her responsibility.

Research controversy vs. football controversy: Comparing two high-profile cases in Chapel Hill

Scandal comes to Chapel Hill, and what happens?  Epidemiologist Bonnie Yankaskas gets punished.  Football coach Butch Davis gets a big hug from the chancellor.  How different are the two cases? The editor of The News & Observer gives his opinion.

UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorpe, in the "Carolina" jacket, and Butch Davis after the coachs scandal-ridden football team beat Duke last fall.