NextGen Results

NextGen VOICES: Results

We asked young scientists to answer this question:

What is the most challenging ethical question facing young investigators in your field? How should it be addressed?

In the 4 July 2014 issue, we ran excerpts from 15 of the many interesting responses we received. Below, you will find the full versions of those 15 essays (in the order they were printed) as well as the best of the other submissions we received (ordered alphabetically by author name).

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(Can't get enough NextGen? See the results of previous surveys at Future of a Generation, Definition of Success, Experiences that Changed Us, Big Ideas, Experiments in Governing, Science Communication's Future, Science Time Travel, Work-Life Balance, Enduring Ideas, and Science Advocacy.)

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Essays in print

Media communication about stem cell research, nanotechnology, and other novel medical biotechnologies often fuels public expectations for imminent health applications. The pace of science, however, is often incremental and falls short of hopes. Information that promotes optimism is necessary to attain public support and mobilize science, but poorly informed hope leads to disappointment, despair, and distrust. Compounding these challenges is the impact that hype can have on policy agendas, with a premature focus on translation at the cost of basic science. A key ethical question, therefore, is: How ought we communicate about the promise of novel biotechnologies with the aim of catalyzing public support while avoiding hype? Social responsibility in science communication is the answer. Media should strive for accurate reporting, accounting for the scientific merits and caveats of research. Likewise, scientists communicating with the media about their research should highlight both roadblocks and progress. Educational approaches must be extended, particularly targeting scientists-in-training as future spokespersons. Clinicians could address media content in their clinical practice to help patients—the end-users of biotechnologies—develop informed hope. Whereas a body of research predominantly focuses on managing the content of science communication in the public sphere, future research should aim to characterize the influence of promotional communications on patient decision-making. Balanced science communication will encourage support for scientific progress and ground expectations in the limits of science and current clinical tools.
Shelly Benjaminy
National Core for Neuroethics, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 2B5, Canada.
E-mail: shelly.benjaminy{at}

Recently, numerous news reports have surfaced of well-respected researchers getting caught for data fabrication. Now, nobody doubts that altering experimental results is unethical. However, due to competition for funding and even for personal recognition, young investigators often feel compelled to falsify the results of their work. Somehow, they convince themselves that the potential career benefits from minor cheating outweigh the detriments to society that could arise. The challenge, then, is how to resist the temptation to misreport science. The scientific enterprise is set up in such a way that when a research paper is published, it is immediately available for other scientists to use and to build on for their own research. When scientists fabricate their data, eventually they get caught. But since the timeline for detecting fraud is slow, the skewed data may in the meantime already have been used as a foundation for the latest "breakthrough." Why not catch the criminals before they commit the crime? Scientific journals do have strict review processes in place, but these processes are not rigorous enough. Data modifications, regardless of size or type, can easily be overlooked. I propose that the best journals in the world should require proof of data replication by another researcher before submission for publication. The social and financial stigma against research that strictly confirms the results of others should be replaced by healthy encouragement and funding of outside validation as a way to provide checks and balances in the scientific community.
Rosalie Doerksen
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: rosalied{at}

The past decade has seen ever-increasing cases of misconduct in research, which frequently hit headlines and also receive widespread attention among global academics. Research misconduct has become an embarrassing ethical problem worldwide. In this context, the most challenging ethical question facing young investigators is a lack of scientific integrity, which may damage the reputation of both young individuals involved and the whole scientific enterprise, and dampen the ability of young scientists to produce original innovations. To address this problem, promoting education in responsible conduct of research is the first important step in China, where most universities and institutes did not offer official courses concerning scientific integrity and a code of scientific conduct until recently, and many researchers really do not know what can be done ethically or not. The lack of education on research integrity is among the main reasons responsible for research misconduct. Another deserving effort in promoting scientific integrity in China is to foster a healthy research environment, which includes making explicit research ethics policies, issuing a practical code of conduct, establishing a credible and authoritative national organization to supervise local units, protecting whistle-blowers, building a rigorous and fair peer review system, revising the criteria for promotion and reward to emphasize research quality rather than quantity by a researcher, and achieving zero tolerance for unethical research behaviors.
Fengbo Li
Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, 310021, China.
E-mail: fengboli{at}

The use of animals in scientific research is the most controversial, divisive, and ethically challenging question I face. That innocently seeking question, "…and what do you do?" has so many times led to a long and heated debate on whether animal research is ethical or necessary. The majority of our medical and scientific achievements are developed, tested or discovered with the help of the ubiquitous lab animal. This is a nice sentiment, but it often misses the mark when defending animal research and who is really surprised? As far as the public are concerned, our research is just inaccessible and incomprehensible jargon. The very animal scientific procedure act (UK) we work under contains a secrecy clause, published articles are hidden behind online paywalls (even those paid for by the taxpayer), and access to animal laboratories is restricted. Ultimately, shutting out the public like this is inimical and will eventually exaggerate the public's view of scientists as cryptic, egotistical, and cold. Through constant public engagement, social communication, and early education, people could have a much better understanding of why the laboratory animal is indispensable. Such projects as the recent Declaration of Openness on Animal Research Concordat, the Elsevier "cost of knowledge" boycott, and the petitions to have our secrecy clause lifted are all in favor of educating the public. It is imperative that as scientists we seek to support such causes wherever possible, if not for the benefit of the public, then for the benefit of science in the long run.
Roddy Grieves
Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ, UK.
E-mail: rmgrieves{at}

In genetics research, I am expected to work with high-throughput sequencing, which regularly collects and processes data spanning entire genomes. With so much genomic data and computational power at hand, it is increasingly likely I will encounter incidental findings of BRCA, CF, Alzheimer's, or other flagged genes. However, with samples coming from distant sources, the question arises of my ethical responsibility to contact the sample provider and make sure that the donor is informed. Having donors fill out consent forms asking if they would like to be notified in the case of relevant findings and then subsequently marking biological samples would solve the dilemma to be faced by investigators, like myself, dealing with sensitive genomic data.
Girish Valluru
Vagelos Scholars Program in the Molecular Life Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: vallurug{at}

An elderly woman is in the hospital. She has Multiple Sclerosis and it is beginning to influence every aspect of her life. The doctor tells her about something called a clinical trial and that there are cells that can potentially regenerate the tissue damaged by her disease. He tells her there are risks involved with the trial like the risk of infection and the risk of tumors. He talks about other medical options—none of which she has heard of before. He tells her the cells might improve her symptoms. The woman feels confused, but her husband is pushing her to try this new "treatment." The woman gives her consent and joins the trial. This example demonstrates a common theme in medicine—explaining medical options to individuals with little medical knowledge in hopes that an informed decision can be made. The reality is that medicine is increasingly becoming too complicated for many individuals to understand. It is beginning to surpass the ability of patients to make informed decisions, especially around new emerging biotechnologies such as stem cell interventions and genome sequencing. The burden is increasing on our new generation of young investigators to disseminate increasingly complex science to the community; however, there is no formal training offered in this endeavor. We need to educate new scientists and clinicians about these aspects of knowledge translation, as well as the public about medical tests and procedures, so that patients can truly become empowered to make informed decisions.
Karen J. Jacob
National Core for Neuroethics, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 2B5, Canada.
E-mail: karen.jacob{at}

An ethical issue facing young investigators in neurosciences pertains to the use of cognitive-enhancing interventions in healthy individuals. Many forms of cognitive intervention are used to improve mood, cognition, and behavior in patients suffering from psychiatric disorders. However, many of these interventions also have the potential to induce effects on normal individuals, resulting in the enhancement of cognitive abilities. Perhaps a notable example on university campuses is the use of ADHD drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin by healthy students to improve performance on exams and work efficiency. Some argue that we should welcome new methods of improving our cognitive function and that the use of neurocognitive enhancing drugs is essentially no different from increasing our work efficiency through the use of caffeine. On the other hand, the use of usually illegally purchased and not prescribed drugs can have detrimental effects on the user; the long-term side effects of ADHD interventions on healthy individuals have not been extensively studied. Also the ethical issue presents itself as to whether it is fair in an academic setting for those who take cognitive-enhancing drugs to be assessed against those who do not take such drugs, especially considering the increasing competitiveness for admission to graduate programs. I suggest that we approach this issue first by educating students on the possible dangers of not prescribed medications and second by investing more research to truly understand the impacts of cognitive enhancing drugs on students competing in an increasingly demanding academic environment.
Cody Lo
National Core for Neuroethics, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 2B5, Canada.
E-mail: codylo94{at}

Large-scale, multicenter clinical trials are the way of the future for young investigators wishing to address complex questions related to brain development and to discover safe and effective interventions for kids living with neurodevelopmental disability. Rapid advancements in neuroimaging technologies and whole-genome sequencing have led to significant progress in this area and are commonly used in pediatric clinical trial research. Along with new technologies and research collaborations, however, come large data sets, colloquially referred to as Big Data. Applying Big Data strategies can optimize innovation, improve the efficiency of research and clinical trials, and lead to advances in personalized medicine that could improve the lives of children with complex health needs. Hence, young investigators are increasingly motivated to capitalize on Big Data. However, important ethical challenges must be addressed before the power of Big Data can be harnessed to its fullest potential. For instance, how do we achieve consensus among researchers, pharmaceutical industry representatives, regulatory agencies, research ethics boards, and family advocates on best ethical practices for conducting large-scale multicenter clinical trials involving children and adolescents living with neurodevelopmental disability? What mechanisms need to be in place to ensure ethics harmonization and oversight? Work is currently being done to achieve this at both national and international levels. Young investigators need to be engaged in the harmonization process, as they are on the front lines of data collection and analysis and are uniquely positioned to interface with actors on many levels: senior researchers, research staff, ethics boards, and the research participants themselves.
Nina Di Pietro
National Core for Neuroethics, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 2B5, Canada.
E-mail: ndipietro{at}

Environmental research requires money and logistical support, particularly if the science being conducted is cutting-edge and uses the latest technologies. Obtaining this funding can be difficult—even as government science budgets increase, the proportion of money available for research that will not produce direct financial benefits has waned. Therefore, young researchers who tackle important environmental questions may find themselves in a position of tailoring their programs to involve industry partners that can support their work. How can these young investigators accept money and in-kind support from an industry partner while ensuring that they maintain a real and perceived ability to conduct and publish unbiased science? There are tremendous positive opportunities in forming research partnerships, but there are also risks, particularly of a real or perceived conflict of interest. Researchers should be trained in how to enter into these partnerships in such a way that the integrity of their research program is not compromised. In addition, the scientific community should establish transparent best-practice guidelines that can be followed to ensure scientific impartiality, so that it can be clearly identified when research is produced via a defensible funding arrangement. Audits should then be conducted to identify whether researchers and partners are following these rules.
Brett Favaro
Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Resources, Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial, University of Newfoundland,
St. John's, NL, A1C5R3, Canada.
E-mail: brett.favaro{at}

The most challenging ethical question facing aerospace engineers is the protection of the space environment. Although young scientists and engineers contribute increasingly to the space exploration and development, we have not given adequate attention to the possible connections between the advanced technique and environmental consciousness. In my opinion, we ought to broaden access to environmental philosophy and realize that unbridled space activities by manned and robotic missions may pollute, degrade and even destroy the space environment. In addition, young investigators should be encouraged to participate in the discussion of ethical code and policy for future space program. The seniors can help us develop the conception of a sustainable and environmentally aware exploration of the space environment for industry, commerce, and tourism.
Jiang Zhao
School of Automation Science and Electrical Engineering, Beihang University, Beijing, 100191, China.
E-mail: jzhao{at}

Although they are sufficiently warned against committing outright fraud through ubiquitous ethics seminars, young investigators are still exposed to a more subtle, lurking enemy challenging their professional integrity: scientific pollution. This murky underworld of junk science includes everything from improper citations to perpetuation of invalidated ideas to gross misinterpretation of data. Young investigators are particularly prone to (often unknowingly) muddy the scientific waters because as they learn the lay of the land, they take cues from other papers, peers, and mentors. So when a graduate student reads a review paper citing other review articles instead of original work, this becomes their standard of what is acceptable; never mind that if you trace the cited fact to the original study, you may find a 1965 publication using an outdated method now known to be unreliable. A postdoc designing a new experiment may opt to use currently available methods—even if they are far from the best—for the sake of feasibility or consistency with prior work, unwilling to question their mentor's established, affordable methods. Junior investigators struggling for grants and promotions may be tempted to overstate their findings or publish premature findings in lower-than-low-tier journals to boost their publication numbers. Because all this nonsense makes good science more difficult for everyone, it is our collective responsibility as scientists, colleagues, communicators, advocates, and mentors to curtail it wherever possible. Research thoughtfully. Analyze critically. Publish scrupulously. Speak truthfully.
Kelly Downing
Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatrics, School of Medicine, University of Colorado–Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.
E-mail: downing.kellyp{at}

The pressure to publish can lure young people to fake data, ignore data, or jump to conclusions from insufficient number of data. The pressure is huge and it is easy to fake data once one has a good feel for the system. The solution is twofold. First, one has to be trained from the first second of his/her undergraduate life to be a good scientist. Value data, and always be honest about findings. Ultimately, this is what furthers the world and science. And here is the root of the problem: What is good for science at large should also be good for one's career. The "publish or perish" game is bad for science and for the scientist. Instead of quantity, we should go for quality. I strongly support an idea of my professor in which each scientist starts with a limited number of publication slots, and he/she is only allowed to publish more if the prior publications are deemed good enough.
Ádám Kun
Department of Plant Systematics, Ecology, and Theoretical Biology, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, H1117, Hungary and Parmenides Center for the Conceptual Foundations of Science, Munich/Pullach, D82049, Germany.
E-mail: kunadam{at}

Privacy and data collection have become the most challenging ethical issue in telecommunication and wireless systems. Now that coherent optical technology is used to deliver 100 gigabit through fibers, and microprocessors and permanent memory are made inexpensive, how do we guard the massive amounts of personal data submitted to commercial entities when ordering online or using mobile apps? Imagine a world where unique fingerprints, facial dimensions, and palm patterns unknowingly become available to physicians, insurance companies, and research entities, but are not protected by privacy or anonymity laws, while unencrypted patient data could be lost or stolen at any minute, making "Identity Theft" no longer just a comedy. Soon, cellphones and GPS will know your route everywhere, with speeding tickets coming directly from private industry, not the police. After all, nobody would enjoy the possibility of being "Enemy of the State." It's time for us to think about what kinds of information should be collected and retained. The gap between data collection and privacy protection needs to be bridged through appropriate policy discussions. And the principles of purpose limitation and data minimization need to be addressed at the soonest possible time to balance the benefits for businesses and researchers against God-given, constitutionally protected, individual privacy rights.
Yi Weng
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette, LA 70504, USA.
E-mail: yxw9354{at}

Bureaucracy and guanxi (cultivating relationships with people who can help you) form a major challenge to science ethics in China. Most young investigators have to bear great pressure and be kept busy in the bottom of the pyramid. Only a few can do something of personal interest. Boss professors are busy participating in conference, developing guanxi and grabbing projects and funds, while young investigators have to practically fulfill these projects and write papers with the names of the boss professors in the author list, even if the boss professors do not know what was written in the paper. There is a circle of guanxi, and the most successful young investigators in China are often the former students of famous professors who hold or formerly held critical positions as academic bureaucrats or referees in judging projects and talents. Although China has several prestigious schemes for supporting a limited number of outstanding young talents, there is an obvious Matthew effect, in that these schemes are granted to the same few investigators who are of the abovementioned descent. Inequity and concentration in allocation of resources to young investigators is a typical character in China. According to a survey reported by China Youth Daily, 84.5% of Chinese young investigators hired by universities believe that they belong to the middle or lower class of the society. The circle of guanxi cuts off the successful way for young investigators who may rise by their own efforts. If the younger generation of Chinese investigators wants to achieve better development in China, they must comply with famous professors and develop guanxi, or obtain a Ph.D. degree and work experience abroad and then become awarded returnees. These poor conditions frustrate the original creation spirit of China's young investigators and distort values. China needs reforming mechanisms, institutions, and laws to remove interference from bureaucracy and guanxi in allocating research resources. It has strategic significance for the central government of China to take this seriously and show determination to treat the reforming as a critical point for giving new lives to China's young investigators.
Xin Miao
School of Management, Harbin Institute of Technology, Harbin, 150001, China.
E-mail: xin.miao{at}

My field is computer security, focusing on network monitoring techniques like intrusion detection systems. These techniques aim at detecting malicious attacks on computer systems, and I need to operate in the twilight zone between good and bad. From a research ethics perspective, young researchers lack good test sets for verifying intrusion detection system efficiency, and are often limited to testing data on the venerable KDD-Cup test sets from 1998 and 1999. These limitations render research on new intrusion detection algorithms at best questionable, and at worst invalid, given that the results cannot be verified under realistic conditions with more modern and realistic data traffic and protocols. Testing under realistic scenarios is problematic, because the results are not repeatable. Furthermore, testing on real data requires high-security vetting and may produce confidential results that are not publishable. Security technologies may also have dual-use possibilities. Security researchers may, for example, detect new system vulnerabilities during their research, and may end up in ethical dilemmas: Shall I be good and publish these results, or shall I sell them at the highest price to the gray market of government agencies and others that capitalize on vulnerabilities? And then you have privacy: These technologies can be used both for the good—protecting security of citizens—and bad—creating an Orwellian surveillance society. How can these technologies be improved to be usable and efficient from a security perspective at the same time as human rights like privacy and freedom of speech are ensured? New techniques are needed for protecting sensitive information, measuring information leakages as well as ensuring accountability, transparency, and nonrepudiation on access to such information. How can this be done and how can you prove that it works in a convincing way?
Nils Ulltveit-Moe
Department of Information and Communication Technology, University of Agder, Norway, Grimstad, 4879, Norway.
E-mail: nils.ulltveit-moe{at}

Top Online Essays

In the field of plant sciences, the most challenging ethical question is no doubt plant transgenic and clone research. Nowadays young plant scientists in China have to consider evaluating the effects of their research on human health, biodiversity, and environment conservation before conducting experiments. On the one hand, the application of plant transgenic research has been in controversy. Although widely planted, the safety of transgenic crops and their environment effects still need further confirmation. On the other hand, plant clone research also received considerable ethical queries. For example, the natural forests of the endangered plant, Taxus chinensis, were cut down seriously in China to extract taxol (an anti-tumor drug). To rehabilitate and conserve the species, researchers largely bred the seedlings of Taxus chinensis using clone technology. Nevertheless, such clone process is just simply the "copy" of a few maternal plants, which is disadvantageous to the biodiversity of gene and genome. Therefore, the critical question facing plant geneticists is how to genetically modify or copy plants in a reasonable ethical framework. To address this question, I believe the most effective way is to balance human and plant interests. For human wellbeing, genes that related to food yield, new medicines, or natural fiber could be modified under strict criteria. For environment conservation and biodiversity, genes related to other functional traits and their interactions with environmental factors could be further modified. In addition, the development of novel techniques such as epigenetics and core collection construction could be used for this purpose.
Bo Cao
College of Life Sciences, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an, Shaanxi, 710119, China.
E-mail: bocao{at}

Young investigators in my area of basic biology face a dilemma between doing their science with care and rigor or publishing as quickly as possible. Taking the time to be sure of our results can end a career if someone else publishes first. The result is not so much outright fraud as it is poor science that does not hold up in long term. Changing the incentives for junior scientists would require hiring, promotion, and funding committees to reward careful work ahead of publication in prestigious journals. We also need to change the incentives for our mentors and senior scientists. There should be serious repercussions for funding when the work of a senior scientist does not stand up to long-term scrutiny.
Scott Carlson
Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.
E-mail: scottmc{at}

As a young biochemist, I believe that the most challenging ethical issue we face today is the ubiquitous use of endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates in plastic products. Given that these chemicals have been linked to harmful effects on human reproduction and development, even at levels deemed safe by the EPA, it is concerning that exposure to BPA and phthalates is still virtually unavoidable. We need stricter U.S. government legislation at the federal level that bans or limits these chemicals in plastics. At the very least, federal labeling laws specific to BPA and phthalates must be established. This will require cooperation from scientists, policymakers, the chemical industry, and others. Until then, it is up to those of us who have been educated about the risks of BPA and phthalates on human health to increase public awareness and make our voices heard.
Kanita Chaudhry
Laboratory of Cell and Molecular Biology, Gene Expression and Regulation Section, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA.
E-mail: kanita.chaudhry{at}

The next generation of leaders in science has a responsibility to attend to the ethical challenges of environmental change on brain and mental health. Traditionally, environmental ethics has focused an ethical lens towards the non-human world, paying attention to the ways that humans impact the natural environment. This focus stems partly from an increasing awareness of the effects of technology and economic development on the environment. For example, in the United States, there are over 52,000 shale gas wells, and shale gas production has increased 12-fold over the past decade. Similar statistics describe the expansion of shale gas fracturing in Western Canada. However, it is also the case that changing utilization of the environment has considerable consequences for the human brain and mental health and this requires an environmental neuroethics. What are the effects of climate change, or disasters such as earthquakes on mental health and brain structure? What are the consequences for brain and mental health from advanced technological methods of extracting unconventional natural resources from the environment? Scientists are beginning to explore these critical questions, but much work, especially interdisciplinary approaches, are needed to explicate the ways environmental change is impacting the burden of neurologic and psychiatric disease. The answers to such questions have potentially far-reaching implications for both individual and societal well-being. These implications extend not only to environmental justice, but also to the capacity of local health and social organizations to deal ethically with increasing environmental impacts on the human brain and mental health.
Jacqueline Davidson
National Core for Neuroethics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 2B5, Canada.
E-mail: jacqueline.davidson{at}

An extremely challenging ethical question for investigators working in basic research, in my case in the field of life sciences, is whether our studies will benefit society. After asking "What are you doing?," people frequently say "And what is that for?" This implies the idea of a practical consequence of the research, which basic investigations do not necessarily have. Must science have an immediate and concrete application? Applied research has the goal of addressing specific problems and achieving practical results, whereas basic science does not. I believe applied and basic research are deeply connected, and they are both fundamental for social progress. Basic investigations lay the foundation for applied research and can lead to innovative products and technologies. But basic science is also an essential pillar for the advancement of knowledge, which is extremely important in itself. Therefore, the contribution of basic science does not necessarily have to be related to future applications or even to paradigm-shifting discoveries. Everyday findings of high quality scientific researchers around the word increase human knowledge, which is undoubtedly of great importance for society.
Ana Laura De Lella Ezcurra
Instituto Leloir, Buenos Aires, 1405, Argentina.
E-mail: jacqueline.davidson{at}

As a future white coat approaching to the complex world of the hospital wards, the issue I'm most worried about is the assignment of placebo in blind randomized trials. I see myself in front of an ill person expecting from me the best care and what do I give him? A 50% chance of taking a drug, a 50% chance of prolonging his life. In 50% of cases, I'm giving him illusion in the form of pills, I betray the Hippocratic Oath, and I don't even know. We all know it is the only way to ensure a drug's efficacy. But when somebody says "Doc, I trust you, if you're proposing this to me, you'll have your reasons," even if you tell him "it's your choice," it's not true; patients always involve you, and you realize that the informed consent is quite far from being a solution. Drawing attention to the theme is necessary, and I hope to be thought-provoking to the whole healthcare system, so that we can start seeking a fairer approach, or at least a broader understanding of how clinical research is done, maybe just starting from a #placeboawarenessday.
Giuseppe Ferrillo
Federico II School of Medicine, Naples, Italy.
E-mail: giosepherrillo{at}

By recent examples, the most serious ethical issues young scientists face is the question of "Bought and Paid For" science and its effect on public policy. By this I mean scientific publication of material that is not begun or presented in the spirit of open-ended inquiry, but paid to provide predetermined results. Transparency efforts in paid political advertising have failed, so what remains is the need for the scientific community is to challenge each and every attempt to distort the scientific method, community, or record as vociferously as possible.
Michael Furr
Marysville, WA 98270, USA.
E-mail: furr{at}

After making a small incision, I cut open the skin of the rat that was already pinned by one of my colleagues. I struggled with the dissecting instruments until the viscera were visible and the sight that appeared before my eyes gave me a mini heart-attack. The still pounding heart of the rat made me almost run away. The rest of the day was rather blurry for me and I vaguely remember our assistant lecturer trying to explain that it's normal for a freshly killed rat. That was my first experience in dissection. Is it ethical to kill animals for study purposes? A huge question mark popped above my head whenever I had to do anything related to handling animals. Zoology is not an area where you can escape from doing animal research. Whether you turn to conservation, immunology, ecotoxicology, or almost any other subfield, you have to combat with your inner-conscience to decide if you really should do this or do you have any other alternative way of accomplishing the objective. Currently, using animal models is inevitable in zoology-related areas. In vitro techniques such as stem cell and genetic testing methods, computer models and simulations are crude approaches to simulate the reality. It's almost 60 years since Russell's 3Rs came into play, until now little has changed. With newly developing artificial tissues and organs, there is hope for the zoologists. But will we be able to put a full stop for animal testing; is a mystery yet to be unraveled.
Ruwansha S. Galagedara
Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.
E-mail: ruwansha89{at}

Ever since light-level geolocators revealed the movements of individual migratory songbirds from North America to their Neotropical wintering grounds [Stutchbury et al., Science 323, 896 (2009)], ornithologists worldwide have been practically giddy. The allure of the 'geo' is obvious; global populations of many migratory species are in steep decline, presumably due to human activities at both ends of their migratory journeys, and this nascent technology promises to fill critical gaps in our knowledge that will be needed to reverse these trends. Geolocators enable scientists to (finally!) document migratory routes, connectivity, and timing, and to quantify the carry-over effects of migration on the breeding condition of individual birds. And yet, the consequences for the fitness of the individuals that carry these devices are far from clear. It is worrisome that recently published studies purporting to demonstrate adverse effects on reproduction and survival [e.g., Scandolara et al., J. Avian Biol. 45, 1 (2014)] have been met with incredulity by many ornithologists, perhaps most of all by those who have invested precious research funds and time in geolocator deployment and retrieval. Hundreds of geolocators have been and continue to be deployed on the backs of sensitive migratory species without empirical consensus of their safety. For this reason, the use of tracking devices presents an ethical quandary for this young ornithologist, who is simultaneously enamored of their potential and concerned that in our excitement, we may have jumped the gun.
Matthew R. Halley
Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Delaware State University, Dover, DE 19901, USA.
E-mail: matthewhalley{at}

Genetic engineering is one of the most hot-button issues of today, not only for the boundless scientific possibilities, but also for endless ethical questions and concerns regarding genetically modified crops, animals, and perhaps eventually humans. These are the largest ethical questions facing young investigators, as multitudes of labs across the world work on genetically modified organisms that are then rejected by a large portion of the population because of ethical questions. For examples of this, look at the golden rice controversy, when fields of modified rice were destroyed by protesters citing ethical reasons. These questions need to be put to rest through public outreach and education regarding genetic modification; open communication allows the public to better understand the ways, means, and purpose behind science. In the golden rice fields, the public might have been more open to genetically modified rice had they been informed of its nutritional value. Furthermore, firm policy decisions that are communicated to the public about the scope and breadth of genetic engineering would go a long way to calm public fears.
Carla Hoge
Department of Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: choge{at}

Maintaining our own sense and pride of high-quality research in the devastating publish-and-get-funded-or-perish atmosphere of the current science. We are constantly drifting away from high quality, pushed not by lack of skills but by lack of time. This is amplified by the behavior of senior scientists, our role models, who experience the same struggle and obstacles. It is one thing to be pressured by deadlines, multiple projects, or heavy work load. Those are expected in every other job out there in the current world. But it is quite another thing to be pressured by the possibility of losing the life you live, being driven on another continent or country, far away from the people you love. The latter pressure is what young scientists are now facing every day, as a result of the now-endless chain of postdoctoral positions we must endure. It is a kind of pressure that can make one yield from one's principles. The only way to address the ethical problems originating from this pressure is to lessen it. Do not increase "funding." Transform "funding" into real positions and real jobs. Acknowledge that "more papers" does not equal "more science," let alone "better science." Force a permanent-to-fixed-term-position ratio. Give the productive, genius minds the peace to be productive and genius.
Jouni Kainulainen
Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, 69117, Germany.
E-mail: jtkainul{at}

Researchers in the area of biomedical engineering are increasingly collaborating with colleagues from other parts of the world. Although this is commendable, it also creates a unique set of ethical challenges for scientists who collaborate internationally. Some of these can include the local work culture, institutional review processes, research and publishing standards that might not compare to the standards adopted in other nations. With the rapid growth of science and technology in developing countries such as India and China, the future will probably see a paradigm shift with respect to some of the ethical challenges that scientists in the United States and Europe will have to face. Although reaching scientific consensus needs to be encouraged, the interpretation of scientific data among nations might be difficult. Similarly, patent and copyright laws can differ among nations and reaching a consensus in this area can be a challenge in the future. Greater emphasis needs to be placed during graduate and post-doctoral training in communicating, collaborating and having dialogue with colleagues from other countries. Further, researchers and scientists should attempt to build consensus and absorb the positive aspects of research practices from their colleagues in other nations. This will not only enhance their own research practices but also help them to be in a position to better tackle global challenges of the future.
Ajay Kashi
Rochester, NY 14620, USA.
E-mail: ajay.kashi{at}

On average, every tenure-track position advertised has more than 200 applications. With the tenure-track positions getting scarce and requirements for every position increasing exponentially, publications are becoming extremely important. How cut-throat does one need to become to make himself competitive in the current market is probably the most challenging question faced by young investigators. This is not a field-specific issue, but that of academic world in general. Does one sacrifice quality for quantity in their quest for the elusive tenure-track position? Although this gambit may payoff for some, it still raises the question about the validity of such incomplete stories being published. How interpretable are these conclusions without follow-up studies? What if the follow-up studies give results contradictory to the previously published data or lead to a completely different interpretation. The answers to these questions raise more questions about the current state of job market and/or awarded grants. The solutions to address this question may vary depending on the stage of career the investigators are in. The proposed solution may also vary depending in the residential status of the investigator in his/her country of research. As a postdoctoral associate, discussing this question among my peers, the answer always starts with "If only…." While the answers may be varied with possible solutions, most of them point towards improving the funding of research proposals. Increased funding may not be the answer to all the ethical issues, but it will surely help alleviate it to certain extent.
Naga Rama Kothapalli
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019, USA.
E-mail: ramakn{at}

The most challenging ethical question I have experienced and seen my colleagues and friends experience has been how to answer young students asking for advice when considering pursuing science or mathematics as a career. I love research science, and I think it is one of the most important human endeavors. Unfortunately, our present research/development and scientific training system is broken. We have an over-expansion of graduate programs apparently due to a large part to the creation of graduate programs designed to provide cheap labor or a line item on rankings, a dearth of scientific positions (even when considering positions outside of academia), and woefully inadequate funding. Paradoxically, I have also heard many reports of the odd situation of there being both an exceedingly small number of positions but also only a very small number of desirable candidates, even given the preponderance of candidates applying for these positions, so positions are going unfilled. These problems are certainly not limited to science and mathematics disciplines. How can we honestly encourage students who have the potential to be great researchers and scientific thinkers? I feel that is deeply unethical for us to only communicate the wonders and joys of research endeavors without also cautioning and severely discouraging these young students. The entire system needs to be reconsidered and rebalanced. No simple or easy solution exists, but rather that a dispassionate review with the teeth to make changes is necessary.
Damon G. Lamb
Gainesville, FL 32608, USA.
E-mail: damon.lamb{at}

The most challenging ethical question facing scientists has been, and still remains, whether we are allowed to use non-human animals for laboratory biomedical research. There are two main reasons for this. First, the scope of suffering and pain is almost incomprehensible: Each year hundreds of millions of animals big and small suffer physical and emotional pain, and the numbers just keep rising. Second, the issue is extremely complex, involving politics, science, and ethics. Huge funds, including public funds, are devoted to research in animals, and the career of many depends on it. Politicians often prefer devoting more resources to existing methods that have provided limited utility, rather than risk investing in novel methods which may or may not prove more useful. Moreover, the scientific evidence to support animal experimentation is anecdotal at best, and yet the best evidence-oriented minds in the world presume that the practice is sound and beneficial compared to other potential methods. Lastly, even if animal experimentation proves to be cost-effective and evidence-based, there remain the ethical questions, penetrating deep into our very essence as human beings: Are we different from them? Was Gandhi right? In a 100 years, if humans are still here, will our grandchildren condemn us as we currently condemn those involved in the terrible atrocities in the past and present. Will books such as The Specieist Doctors and Ordinary Scientists describe in horror how we subjected billions of creatures to pain and suffering without pausing for a moment to ask "should we do this?"
Zohar Lederman
Centre for Biomedical Ethics, National University of Singapore, Singapore, 129790, Singapore.
E-mail: zoharlederman{at}

More papers or better papers? I think the most challenging ethical question facing young scientists in life science is balancing the quantity and quality of publications. Due to the reduced federal funding and increasing publication pressures, young scientists tend to use a "smarter" strategy to split their data into several articles. A lot of junior investigators prefer to publish a small set of data as soon as possible to get more papers for their job search, grant application, or tenure evaluation. However, in many cases, this strategy reduces the quality and value of the publications. One publication with high quality might have higher impact than two regular papers. The best way to address this question is collaboration. Collaboration fosters a cross-fertilization of ideas and methodologies. Two heads are better than one. Collaboration enables young scientists to publish more papers without reducing the quality of the work.
Kefeng Li
Department of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA 92103, USA.
E-mail: kli{at}

Duplicate publication in different languages is the most challenging ethical question facing young investigators in the field of ecology. This behavior is mainly caused by the scientific evaluation system based on the number of articles. To address this problem, scientific ethics training is the first step for young investigators before entering the scientific fields. Second, the scientific evaluation system for young investigators should focus on the supervision of duplicate publication in different languages. The quality of articles can be used as the only alternative standard to assess the scientific level of young investigators. Finally, academic ethics systems and the related scientific laws should be established to bind the behavior of young investigators.
Guilin Liu
State Key Laboratory of Lake Science and Environment, Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing, Jiangsu, 210008, China.
E-mail: liu{at}

I am a geneticist s and we are facing a very serious ethical issue: the use of genetic findings and information of individuals of interest for patent and publications. Herewith I am putting an example for understanding the seriousness of the problem. The genome of Hela cells is sequenced but it is not public because the family members of Henrietta Lacks have ethical issues from being targeted for disease and suffering emotionally setbacks. This issue stops many scientists from doing research unless the family members of Lacks are ready for the research interest and onset for that. Geneticists cannot be granted with patents on a gene, however it is synthesized or modified because the ethical question states that gene is a natural entity and it cannot be patented. At the same time genetic tests such as BRCA marker test for breast cancer were patented. It can be said that the use of genetic material without proper onset and approval is the most challenging ethical question that is faced by every geneticist.
Ranjeet Singh Mahla
Department of Biology, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal, Bhopal, MP, 46203, India.
E-mail: liu{at}

I think the most challenging ethical issue facing young investigators in the biomedical sciences is the necessity to tailor research plans as safe as possible to get funding. In the current economic environment, where science funding is unstable and insufficient, even some established investigators have difficulty sustaining their research. The situation is harsher for young scientists as they lack long publication records or strong reputations that are often very helpful to win grants. Given the strong tendency of NIH, the primary funding resource of the field, toward supporting secured projects, young investigators abstain from developing risky projects. However, big discoveries usually come with risk and novelty in the expedition to the unknown. Therefore, the economic constraints in biomedicine compel young investigators to adapt their projects to be less risky and innovative, which is a major ethical question for scientists as well as society. An ideal solution to address this problem would be increasing federal R&D budget to support a broader variety and number of biomedical projects. Also, the proportion of high-risk projects in grant awards should be expanded wisely.
Gürkan Mollaoğlu
Department of Oncological Sciences, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA.
E-mail: gurkan.mollaoglu{at}

Hot material, an expression that we use in material science referring to a recently discovered material with exciting properties. Such materials always attract research for years, and drive the publications to high-profile journals. It is important for researchers to use the unique properties of the new materials in all possible applications. However, some researchers incorporate a hot material with their active material just to make the work fancier, better sounding, and easily publishable even if it has nothing to do with the application under study. So, is it okay to decorate the work with a hot material without an actual benefit just to have the paper get through easily. A more serious ethical issue is raised when an overestimation of the result of the hybrid "hot-active" material is made to convince the reviewers. Addressing such a problem can be done by having the paper reviewed not only by reviewers in the field but by reviewers who have previous experience in that particular application. They have a better understanding of the details and can catch such a misrepresentation more easily.
Islam Mohamed Fahmy Mosa
Department of Chemistry, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269, USA.
E-mail: islam.mosa{at}

As the fields of neuroscience and physics progress, young scientists will be better equipped to address unresolved questions surrounding the notion of free will. Although seemingly a topic best left to philosophers, free will has caught the attention of many researchers who hypothesize that human behavior can be reduced to physical and biological phenomena. In fact, the seminal paper by Libet et al. published nearly 30 years ago (Brain, 1983) made the controversial claim that human thoughts arise spontaneously in the brain and that subjects only become aware of their intention to act several hundred milliseconds after the occurrence of the neurological event corresponding to their decision. This publication was significant in that it attempted to experimentally determine the nature of human decision-making, challenging the widely held notion that, under certain physical circumstances at a given moment in time, a person possesses the ability to consciously choose from any number of behavioral possibilities. While such inquiries are important to furthering our understanding of human nature, they also pose an undeniable ethical dilemma: Would definitive evidence for the lack of free will and the subsequent teaching of this truth lead to negative behavioral consequences? That is, would a lack of belief in free will make a person more likely to act immorally? One interesting study by Vohs and Schooler (Psychological Science, 2008) seems to suggest just that, making it increasingly important that burgeoning scientists subscribing to hard determinism deliver their message in a way that avoids harmful social repercussions.
Joshua Michael Mueller
Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: jmuell{at}

Biomedical engineering is an interdisciplinary field that aspires to integrate the knowledge of medicine, biology, and engineering to address clinical problems. Biomedical engineers conduct translational research and continually seek solutions to health-related problems by providing novel and effective tools to healthcare professionals for diagnosis and treatment. To study the efficacy of a new tool or technique, they often need participation of volunteers. Although it seems benign, it may present significant moral and ethical consequences, be it cardiovascular assist devices to sustain breathing in geriatric patients or organ transplants in terminally ill patients. It is of utmost importance to obtain informed consent from such vulnerable patient population, voluntarily participating in such studies, and to make them fully aware of relevant risks and benefits by suitable means that they can understand and comprehend. They also need to be informed of the likelihood, magnitude, and duration of potential harm or benefit of participation and available treatment alternatives. The respect for confidentiality and privacy is of paramount importance and under no circumstances should sensitive, personal information be collected, that may not be relevant to the research. This is a huge challenge and every effort should be made to code and digitize the information collected and should be properly archived. This calls for "engineering and professional ethics" oriented toward protecting the public from misconduct by engineers and the (potential) harmful effects of technology.
Mrinal Musib
Department of Biomedical Engineering, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
E-mail: biemkm{at}

The pressure to publish has resulted in the disturbing emergence of authorship at any cost for academics in the university sector. Unfortunately, young investigators often bear the brunt of this, which can result in ethical transgressions. At one end of the scale is the fabrication or falsification of results to corroborate a PI's hypothesis, and at the other end is the PI claiming authorship on work where s/he had little if any intellectual input. For the former, it is really up to the individual to have a strong moral compass, whereas the latter is a more difficult and complex issue with implications that unfortunately can be career limiting. This is where research institutes need to have stringent guidelines and practices in place to affirm that authorship is not just a badge of honor but is a serious responsibility where both credit and criticism of the work is shared. With this in mind there is no room for cultural practices that decide authorship or indeed feelings of entitlement due to a PI's prominence in a research field. Therefore procedures should be established to encourage young investigators to raise their concerns over PIs who do not contribute directly to the science but are more concerned with establishing bigger and more reputed labs through procurement of grant money and high profile publications achieved via the intellectual excellence of their younger counterparts. If the community is serious about the growing concern of honorary authorship it needs to be robustly addressed, not at the editorial level of journals, but at the departmental and peer-to-peer level of research institutes.
Anthony Peter O'Mullane
School of Chemistry, Physics, and Mechanical Engineering, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD, 4001, Australia.
E-mail: anthony.omullane{at}

The most challenging ethical questions facing young investigators have to do with communications. How can we communicate responsibly and ethically about our research findings and about their relevance for the broader communities we live in? Hype, decontextualized data, and overreaching conclusions are common pitfalls at all steps in the process of communicating science. In this new information age, with online and social media platforms serving as unregulated sources of science and health information, the poor reporting of science can lead to serious harms. To address these issues, young investigators should receive communications training early and often. We should be exposed to the benefits and the risks of science communication, and understand how ethics principles, such as honesty and integrity, respect for relational and cultural contexts, and tolerance for a diversity of perspectives, can guide us through the process. In addition, we should have opportunities to engage with and learn from science communicators, journalists and other members of the media community, university representatives from Public Affairs, and investigators who successfully juggle research and science communication. Equipped with strong communication skills grounded in ethics, young investigators will become successful science advocates—a tremendous asset for the future of scientific discovery.
Julie M. Robillard
National Core for Neuroethics, University of British Columbia¸ Vancouver, BC, V6T 2B5, Canada.
E-mail: jrobilla{at}

I believe that one of the most challenging ethical issues facing us today is genetic testing. As our knowledge of indicators for genetic disorders increases and the cost of sequencing DNA continues to plummet, the ethical issues surrounding genetic testing become more evident. In the case of treatable diseases, it is easy to reason that genetic testing is highly beneficial. However, in the case of diseases that cannot be treated, the answer is less clear. Receiving this news can have detrimental effects on one's family life, insurance policy, and employment prospects. The uncertainty in the results complicates things further. But should these potential negatives outweigh the positive effects that can result from identifying a disease that can be spotted early and prevented? The answer is not clear. Inherently, the choice to undergo genetic testing is a personal one, though the fact that the results of genetic testing are not entirely private means that the potential effects will spread beyond the patient themselves. What we need to do is work to better inform patients of the social risks of genetic testing and how to effectively interpret the results.
Ashley Sartoris
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: sartoris{at}

My feeling is that there is a fine line between the writing of an honest and realistic grant proposal, and misrepresentation and overblown claims to generate the buzz necessary for positive reviews. I find that as research dollars become harder and harder to secure, and competition gets more and more fierce, there are many among us who are willing to push these lines, and it makes it much more challenging for high-quality but realistic research plans to receive funding. Part of the problem is an apparent lack of accountability in terms of following through on what is proposed. There needs to be more of a focus from funding agencies on making sure investigators follow through on their promises, and more of a willingness to pull the plug on projects that are well off track on delivering promised milestones. This will help to free up funds for other, more promising research. There is too much of a culture of "anything to get funding" in the field of biomedical research. The same ethical guidelines that apply to published data should also apply to grant writing.
Scott Spencer Verbridge
School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA.
E-mail: sverb{at}

The most ethically challenging issue that molecular biologists currently face is germline genetic engineering in humans. This alters the genetic makeup of sperm and egg cells such that the resulting embryo will possess the desired genes and will pass them on to their own offspring. The potential of genetic engineering is incredible. For example, it can allow mothers with mitochondrial disease have healthy children by extracting the nucleus from their egg cell and inserting it into an egg cell of a healthy woman. The product of this process is a baby with the genes of its mother and father as well as the mitochondrial DNA from the donor. Genetic engineering, however, can also be used for more superficial purposes, like giving parents the opportunity to select what traits they would like their children to have. Drawing the line at the point where our interference with nature is ethically acceptable is the source of debate on this issue. Some think that we are getting into nature's and evolution's way and that the long-term consequences of such procedures are unknown and may be unsafe. Others believe think that the benefits of such procedures outweigh their costs. Perhaps the best approach to this situation would be to reach a compromise such that genetic engineering is further tested, and shall be utilized only for dire situations, like disease treatment or prevention, and not for the whims of parents wishing for a designer baby.
Stefana Voicu
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: stefana{at}

New materials raise an important ethical question for human health and natural environment. A large number of new nanoscale products (<100 nm) have been produced and used for computer chips, clothing, DVD players, cars, and so on. But the special toxicity and easy migration of nanomaterials show great potential risks for human health and ecological environment. For example, if a mouse breathes the air included nanoparticles, they will die after 4 hours. Carbon nanotube could induce the formation of tumor in the lung of mice. Therefore, in order to address this ethical question, three aspects should be involved: (i) the legislation and the reference standard for new materials in environment should be formulated and enforced; (ii) more detection and monitoring are needed; (iii) the toxicity and safety should be assessed carefully before it is used in practice.
Hou Wang
College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Hunan University, Changsha, Hunan, 410000, China.
E-mail: huankewanghou024{at}

Frankly speaking, the most challenging ethical question facing by Chinese young investigators is the complex relationship between them and their supervisors. As for the postgraduate students, the core conflict is the attribution of research fruits, such as the argument on the authorship order in a publication, which is an extraordinarily important indicator in current performance evaluation system both for students and supervisors in China. From an ethical point of view, the key reason behind this conflict is the wrong-position of the roles between young investigators and their supervisors. The supervisor usually treats the young investigators as cheap labor instead of training them as the potential independent scientist. However, for some postgraduates, their aim of studying is to get a degree and then find a better job in the future. There is no common approach for addressing this issue at all, but one of the possible solutions is to issue special regulation on the roles and responsibilities of supervisors, and finally reform the whole educational system as well as the evaluation system.
Bing Xue
Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang, Liaoning, 110016, China.
E-mail: bingxue.china{at}

Today data is everywhere, and the Big Data era has arrived. As a young researcher in Information Management and Information Systems, I think security and privacy is the most challenging ethical problem for young investigators whose research is related to data science, especially in the Big Data environment. Currently, the massive data resources and various advanced data mining, text mining, and web mining techniques have altogether made it possible for researchers and organizations to discovery useful knowledge from data, thereby supporting better decision making. However, Big Data is a double-edged sword. Serious challenges in security and privacy may arise when collecting, mining and analyzing the data. For example, many young investigators in my field often crawl, parse, store, and mine data from social media sites and E-commerce websites, which may involve some critical personal privacy information. Also, there exists the security risk that the stored data may be used illegally. To address this challenging ethical issue, I think measures at least in three aspects can be taken. First, publicity and education are particularly important. For example, specialized courses about the ethics of security and privacy should be opened. Second, strict norms and constraints are also necessary. Rules and regulations on security and privacy protection in the Big Data environment should be further established and improved. Third, more advanced data mining, text mining, and web mining methods can be designed. For example, many researchers have studied the privacy-preserving data mining.
Kaile Zhou
Information Management and Information Systems, Hefei University of Technology, Hefei, Anhui, 230009, China.
E-mail: kailezhou{at}