Following this argument, one may suggest that those opposing Burt acted unethically, acting in their interests to see a colleague who at best could be described by most as "eccentric" and by some pupils as "undesirable" fall from his place of status and security into one of disrespect and mockery (Hearnshaw, 1979). Podgor (1999) would suggest criminal fraud occurs in cases where legitimate and purposeful actions are taken that harm others and discredit one's research to the extent where the community the professional served is harmed in some important way, worthy of punishment.
This is difficult to prove however, when critics claim that the justification for Burt's supposed actions came from activities one might claim are questionable in their own right. Consider for example the morality of publishing someone's diary, or private correspondences, without permission, posthumous. This brings into question the ethical or moral argument of whether it is even justifiable to use such "evidence" in a case arguing against the academic validity of another's work.
For the sake of argument, let's say Burt did however, engage in a breach of ethical code, by falsifying information provided in his reports or by neglecting to include information that may not substantiate the results; or, that his academic research incorporated false testimony of people that did not exist. How might one justify this? There are those that argue that Burt was eccentric in nature, encompassed of a personality...
Things brings to mind the argument that Burt may not have been of sound mind or judgment when he engaged in academic research, or that he did not realize any or all of his actions might constitute a breach of moral code or ethical conduct.
An academic breach may be justifiable under such testimony or argument; certainly there are many who agree it is possible to supply fraudulent information one believes to be true, whether because they are not of sound mind or whether because they fail to investigate the full nature of their studies, or inform themselves of the proper codes of conduct they must follow to ensure ethical practices (Hamilton, 2002). In these cases, it is important to device a solution or proposition to handling such affairs so that academic fraud is minimized and so that academia's and professionals engage in ethical conduct that promotes the betterment of the community at large rather than the individual.
Proposed Solutions and Actions
There are many proposed solutions and actions one may adopt to address cases such as that of Cyril Burt. Hamilton (2002) suggests presenting criteria or establishing criteria that form the foundation for what is considered "acceptable" or "ethical" behavior and what behaviors are deemed "unethical" thus qualifying as criminal in nature or fraudulent. To accomplish this, academic institutions must achieve the following: (1) establish principles of professional conduct and ethical duties, including duties others have when investigating the validity of scientific claims; (2) establish boundaries as to what can and may not be considered ethical or moral behavior; (3) define "validity" and what criteria are necessary to prove an individual case, and what exclusion criteria are acceptable, meaning what evidence may or may not be left out without impacting the results of a proposed academic study; and (4) create peer collegiums that monitors the practices of researchers and others engaged in scientific research to ensure they maintain clear and correct practices and that they are of sound mind and body when engaging in scientific research (Hamilton, 2002, p. 119).
If such practices were implemented, they would likely reduce the propensity for academic fraud and introduce stringent criteria for ensuring all research is conducted in a manner that follows agreed on moral and ethical codes of conduct. Further this would reduce the likelihood that researchers would "presume" that any evidence or certain evidence may or may not be excluded from research material to validate or disprove claims.
Australian Psychological Society (2003). Code of ethics.
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Beloff, H. (1980). A balance sheet on Burt. Supplement to the Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 33, i-38.
Hearnshaw, L.S. (1979). Cyril Burt: Psychologist. Ithaca, NY:
Hamilton, N.W. (2002). Academic ethics: Problems and materials…
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