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Six Degrees of Scientific Misconduct

By now, the news of Marc Hauser's fall from grace has made the rounds of the scientific community. That such a high-profile and prolific researcher was caught allegedly fabricating data has rocked not only Hauser's field of study, but the whole scientific community. Now the question turns to Hauser's punishment — should he be exiled from science, or can he be redeemed? The New York Times' Nicholas Wade delves into this topic, saying that Hauser's case of misconduct is "unusual" because he has made so many contributions to his field. Other researchers, Wade reports, aren't averse to the notion of welcoming Hauser back into the research community at some point if he gives a full accounting of his errors.

But Janet Stemwedel at Adventures in Ethics and Science wonders what this means for scientific ethics overall. "Do you feel that some of the rules of scientific conduct are more sacred than others? ... That a scientist who has made 'substantial contributions' in his or her field of study might be entitled to more forgiveness for scientific misconduct than your typical scientific plodder?" she asks her readers. She also wonders if rehab is possible for offenders. But the most important question in this case, Stemwedel says, is whether a scientist's "superstar" status could mitigate his cheating and his punishment. "How should we weigh the violation of trust against the positive contribution this researcher has made to the body of scientific knowledge?" she asks. Is it really OK to send the message that big names are allowed to get away with flouting the rules?

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