Health Care -- Ethical Issues in Evaluation Research
Ben is a professor and Alyssa is his graduate student in health sciences. Ben is the program chair for a conference with publications that are "refereed" or reviewed by an expert board of editors before publication. The conference has a policy that accepted papers must be presented by their authors but Ben does not mention this policy to Alyssa. He suggests that Alyssa submit a paper to the conference and that he will present it because the conference is being held abroad and he cannot support her trip to the conference. Alyssa writes the paper entirely with her own research while funded by an external fellowship, and submits it with herself as the sole author. She gives several drafts to Ben, who does not comment on any of them. Alyssa's paper is accepted by the conference, she is then advised of their policy about paper presentation by authors and she is surprised by it. She asks Ben about the policy and he curtly replies that she will have to make him a co-author on her paper. Alyssa finds this unreasonable under the circumstances but cannot afford to attend the conference on her own. In this scenario, Alyssa violated at least 1 ethical principle and Ben violated several ethical principles.
What (if any) ethical principles have been violated in this scenario?
The relationship between Ben and Alyssa is ripe for abuse. There is a substantial imbalance of power, knowledge, training and experience in the relationship between Ben and Alyssa. First, Ben is Alyssa's professor who: has the power to significantly affect her grades and ultimately her success/failure as a graduate student; and has more knowledge, training and experience about professor-student relationships, research, research papers and the requirements surrounding authorship. Secondly, Ben is a committee chair who: has the power to significantly affect her standing in their professional community, not only within this Country but apparently internationally (as the conference is held abroad); has more knowledge, training and experience about their professional community, their relationship within that community as two research fellows, the community requirements surrounding research, research papers and authorship, and the committee's requirements surrounding research, research papers and authorship; is funded for a trip to the conference while Alyssa is unfunded by the conference and has no means to attend the international conference. Under these circumstances, which are repetitive in the imbalance if not in the precise specifics, Ben is supposed to treat Alyssa more gingerly than he would treat a researcher of equal standing. In addition to the imbalance in their relationship, Ben and Alyssa are professional fellow researchers who should adhere to certain professional ethics and courtesies regarding research, contributions and authorship, particularly considering the fact that Alyssa's research is funded by an external fellowship that does not fund Ben's research and to which he is not accountable. Given the scenario, Alyssa violated at least one ethical principle and Ben violated several ethical principles.
On the given set of facts, Alyssa's violation resides in the fact that she performed research and a resulting paper for her professor's conference while being funded by an external fellowship. Ethically (and possibly legally, depending on the terms of Alyssa's fellowship), research is owned by the person or entity funding it. Alyssa knows or should know that and her behavior is not excused by the imbalance in her relationship with her professor, or the importance of the professor's committee, or the importance of her research/paper, or the importance of being published, or any other consideration. Accepting funding from her external fellowship, Alyssa was not free to promise or deliver research and a resulting paper to her professor for his committee. Whatever her reasons for doing so, Alyssa violated the American Evaluators Association's first principle under subdivision C: Integrity/Honesty, Principles 1 & 7, by failing to honestly negotiate with and inform Ben, the conference and the source of her external fellowship about this research and the resulting paper (American Evaluation Association, 1994, revisions through 2004).
Alyssa's ethical violation pales in comparison to Ben's multiple ethical violations. Ben certainly violated the American Evaluators Association's Principles 1 & 7 under subdivision C: Integrity/Honesty, and subdivision D: Respect for People, Principle 5 (American Evaluation Association, 1994, revisions through 2004) in several ways. First, Ben abused his senior relationship with Alyssa by having her perform research for which he obviously intends to take credit without contributing any work of his own (Public Health Leadership Society, 2002, p. 2). Secondly, Ben abused his superior knowledge, training and experience by not advising Alyssa of the conference requirements that papers be presented by their authors until "the 11th hour" when the paper had already been accepted (Thomas, 2004, p. 7). Third, Ben abused his position as a fellow researcher by: encouraged/allowed Alyssa to perform research for his own conference while funded by an external fellowship that actually owns the research and resulting paper (Public Health Leadership Society, 2002, pp. 2-3; (Thomas, 2004, p. 7); contributing nothing to the research or paper, then attempting to take at least partial credit for it (Kass, 2001). The totality of Ben's actions shows a disregard of the basic ethical values of justice, virtue and human rights (Thomas, 2004, p. 4).
The possible actions that Alyssa can take, noting the implications, ethical, professional, etc., for each course of action.
Alyssa can take several actions. First, she can submit her paper to the source of her external fellowship, either completely withdrawing the paper from consideration by the conference or requesting additional funds to attend the conference and present the paper. This would be the most ethical approach, as the external fellowship funded her research and resulting paper and is therefore ethically, if not legally, entitled to its fruits. Simultaneously, this could be the most immediately damaging academic/professional approach because she will: thwart Ben, who is her superior in her educational and professional communities, as well as the very chair of the international professional committee; forego the opportunity to officially coauthor a paper before a professional committee, unless her external fellowship will fund her attendance. If this scenario plays out like a Hallmark movie, this approach could ultimately enhance Alyssa's academic/professional standing because she will not only have researched/authored a paper that was acceptable to an international committee but will also publicly adhere to ethical principles and might actually be funded by the external fellowship to attend the conference and give the paper. Secondly, Alyssa could continue on her current course of action, insisting that the paper must be solely authored by her, even though she has insufficient funds to attend the conference at which the paper will be given. Her use of the paper for a conference other than her external fellowship is unethical; furthermore, she will probably educationally/professionally damage herself by thwarting Ben and being unable to attend the conference in order to present the paper. Third, Alyssa could go along with Ben, allowing him to officially co-author and present the paper to the conference. Her use of the paper for a conference other than her external fellowship is still unethical; furthermore, it is potentially academically/professionally damaging to her: while she will receive some acknowledgment for co-authoring the paper (assuming Ben does not tell the conference that Alyssa was his typist who wrote a few footnotes, which is quite possible in view of Ben's willingness to violate ethics), the external fellowship could easily discover that she performed research, wrote a paper and submitted it to the conference in abuse of her funding; consequently, she could lose her funding and become known as an unethical researcher/writer. All-in-all, her best course of action appears to be submitting the research and resulting paper to the source of her external fellowship without requesting funds to attend the conference.