Beyond Following Rules: Teaching Research Ethics in the Age of the Hoffman Report

With Dr. Elissa Rodkey and Krista Rodkey I co-authored an article in the History of the Human Sciences. Journal link. Download preprint version.

We also presented a version of this paper at the 2017 annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.


The Hoffman Report scandal demonstrates that ethics is not objective and ahistorical, contradicting the comforting progressive story about ethics many students receive. This modern day failure illustrates some of the weaknesses of the current ethics code: it is rule-based, emphasizes punishments for noncompliance, and assumes a rational actor who can make tricky ethical decisions using a cost-benefit analysis. This rational emphasis translates into pedagogy: the cure for unethical behavior is more education. Yet such approach seems unlikely to foster ethical behavior in the real world, either for students or for mature scientists. This paper argues for an alternative ethical system and a different way of teaching ethical behavior. Virtue ethics emphasizes the development of ethical habits and traits through regular practice and reflection. We show how virtue ethics complements a feminist approach to science, in which scientists are encouraged to reflect on their own biases, rather than attempting to achieve an impossible objectivity. Our paper concludes with pedagogical suggestions for teaching ethical behavior as a
practical and intelligent skill.