The National Academies’ On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research delineates several “everyday values” that guide a sensible scientist’s work: honesty, openness, collegiality, and fairness. These are laudable values for scientific research, as well as for a person engaging with the world as a responsible citizen. However, they are not things that we can expect from scientific practice.
Science is an imperfect source of knowledge. Just as studies in the humanities are guided by special interests, political leanings, personal rivalries, and professional aspirations, science is an enterprise guided by external factors. The difference, though, is that science has become established as an unquestionable authority of knowledge. It is the explainer of all; it holds the solution to all rational problems.
This positivism is not without its problems. It denies the human elements that guide the scientists. While it expects everyday values as guiding principles for scientists, it does not acknowledge the everyday realities that scientists face.
When we can acknowledge the complex nature of scientists and of scientific work, we can alleviate some of the pressure that challenges scientists in the research. And when the work is done more carefully, without social and professional pressures to publish groundbreaking work frequently, we will find something more ethical, and more honest.