Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

An oath for lIfe scientists?

Life scientists sometimes work with dangerous pathogens and chemicals capable of causing grave damage to human health; they engineer novel organisms and conduct high-stakes clinical trials. These scientists are also under incredible pressure to produce results, publish papers and get ahead in their fields. One would hope that all researchers, especially those in the life sciences, adhere to the highest ethical standards. But a recent study by the US Department of Health and Human Services suggests this might not always be the case. The survey by the agency’s Office of Research Integrity found that 9% of US scientists believed they had observed possible research misconduct, such as fabricated research records and misleading grant applications.

To address this issue, the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Toronto has its students recite an oath before embarking upon their graduate studies. The oath is short and pithy; students pledge, among other things, to “pursue knowledge and create knowledge for the greater good, but never to the detriment of colleagues, supervisors, research subjects or the international community of scholars.” They swear never to allow “financial gain, competitiveness, or ambition” cloud their judgment in research and scholarly endeavors.

This strikes me as an excellent idea. Providing students with an opportunity to proclaim their good intent in front of peers is a great way to cultivate a responsible culture. I think all life science graduate programs should be doing this. What do you think?


Photo by The Opus