[July 11, 2014] The field of scientific inquiry has made enormous advancements in our quality of life for hundreds of years. “Scientists” are highly regarded as meticulous, smart, hard working, and honest. Today, their work is peer reviewed by other scientists to ensure the work is accurate. Yet, we have just learned that a scientific journal discovered a “peer review ring” that was created to give favorable reviews to select scientists for publications – an ethical failure.1
In engineering, we call this “quality control” … where others check your work for defects and errors. There is pride in having your work closely reviewed and given good marks for creativity and thoroughness. All of us strive for the best and dedicate ourselves to the task.
Of course, the “peer review ring” was unethical and the journal’s editor was fortunate to have discovered the problem. The editor did the right thing by immediately retracting 60 articles believed to have been reviewed by this ring and then making the issue public. It took moral courage to do these things and you can be assured the editor is not very popular right now.
The learning from ethical failures is something that leaders must be capable of doing. Scientists and leaders are human and even the best can have lapses in judgment. The works of scientists have led to some of the greatest achievements of humankind – a successful landing on the moon, discovery of penicillin, invention of the computer, etc. What a society cannot afford even the hint of systemic flaws creeping into their work.
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