Ethics Scenarios

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The following scenarios provide a few practice scenarios for you to apply the ethical considerations discussed in this section.


Scenario 1

As the person in charge of transportation, you research new transportation techniques for the Penn State University Park campus and find that there is a low cost alternative to the CATA buses. Unfortunately, there are some troubling safety issues related to this alternative but you find several other colleges that have implemented this new technique. You ask each college for data on the safety numbers of the new technique. You analyze the data and realize that if you eliminate one of the colleges there is no difference in the safety of the old vs. new techniques. And, your budget will be balanced if you implement the new technique. What should you do?

  • Can you identify the elements of the American Statistical Association Ethical Guidelines that come into question in the example?
  • How do the guidelines help you considering the action you might take?

Scenario 2

While you are working on a problem on an exam you accidentally notice that the student next to you has a different answer. You decide to go back and check your work. After realizing that you made a mistake, you change your answer.

  • Is this an act of academic integrity?
  • What did the student do wrong?
  • How could this have been avoided?

Scenario 3

A student is accused of plagiarism in a consulting report. While most of the report appears to be original, the professor finds several paragraphs that are directly copied from a journal article, which is cited in the students reference list. The student, convinced that he did not plagiarize, produces all of the notes he used when writing his paper. it is discovered that the copying was a result of sloppy note taking, because the student did not distinguish between his own notes and the words of the article's author in his notes.

  • Is this plagiarism?
  • Is this student responsible for a violation of academic integrity, or is this merely a case of 'bad study habits'?

Scenario 4

Alf Josefson studied benthic organisms from 14 areas of Skagerrak. His study determined that the area is eutrophic, based on a trend indicating increased biomass (weight per m2) that he found when combining data. The slope of the regression lines of biomass was positive at 12 of 14 areas. According to the researcher, this change was not due to chance and he argued that the conclusions could be extended to the whole of Skagerrak; he claims there was a general increase in biomass and that the changes in biomass are caused by "human generated input of nutrients to the sea and that there is evidence of eutrophication" (p. 404). John gray responded, arguing that there is no definitive evidence of eutrophication in Skagerrak. He claimed that Josefson improperly used statistical methods when combining data and of using the precautionary principle instead of statistic norms. He accused Josefson of "crying wolf" (p. 405) to the public on an issue of great political importance. In his reply to Gray, Josefson asks if scientists should not publish results until certainty has been obtained or if they can "warn on the basis of less security" (p. 405).

This disagreement is about (at least) two questions:

  1. Is it legitimate to combine data the way Josefson does?
  2. When is it appropriate to communicate?  How certain should one be before going public?
  • What should this statistical consultant do?
  • What actions should they take, if any?  Why?