Report on INSA- SSV Seminar on "Ethics in Science"
Jointly organized by the Indian National Science Academy (INSA)
and the Society for Scientific Values (SSV), a Seminar on "Ethics
in Science" was held at INSA premises for half a day on March
8, 2003. In his inaugural remarks, Prof M S Valiathan, President
INSA, underlined the ethical concerns which have taken a central
place in global societies particularly after the second world-war
due to ever increasing role of science and technology in our lives.
With rapid advances in life sciences, issues of medical, genetic
and ecological sciences are riddled with ethical problems which
are of concern to government departments, social organizations,
NGOs, academies and learned societies. The dilemma of ethics for
a scientist is epitomized by what Duryodhana of Mahabharat said
: " I know what I ought to do but I cannot do it; I know what
I ought not do but I cannot help doing it".
Prof Valiathan stated that several Indian and international agencies
such as WHO, UNESCO, ICSU, ICMR and DBT have dealt with ethical
issues in the pursuit of S &T in various documents. However,
the problems and concern of developing societies have not been addressed
to in these documents. INSA has, therefore, taken an initiative
to set up an inter-academy committee of all Indian scientific academies
under the Chairmanship of Prof M G K Menon to prepare a document
to take care of the concern and response of developing nations.
Representing Prof Menon, Prof P N Tandon elaborated on the task
of this inter-academy committee and on how the Academies can provide
moral and ethical leadership to the scientific establishments of
In his introduction to the Seminar, Prof Chopra stated that whereas
Science by itself is neutral to Ethics, its pursuit and the scientist
are not. Because of the multidimensional and functional aspects
of Ethics, neither a universal definition nor a universal code of
ethics can be formulated. Nevertheless, unethical practices are
easily discernable to concerned and conscientious peers. Being honest
to oneself and accountable to others is as good a definition as
possible. The foundation of ethics lies in values within a civilized
society. So, why has ethics in science and technology assumed global
concern today? Ethics is central to the process of creation of Knowledge.
And, today, Knowledge is the engine which drives globalised free
market economies in the world. Knowledge is the new currency of
wealth of a nation. International organizations have been set up
to ensure universal acceptance of some sort of ethics.
Frailty: thy name is Mankind! Unethical practices are a part and
parcel of frail human beings every where, though to varying degrees.
It would be naïve to think that a nation which is known for
corruption in all its governance systems would have an island of
ethical practices in our S &T establishments. Prof Chopra listed
a number of examples of unethical and corrupt practices for the
scientific bodies to ponder over. The practice of claiming co-authorship
in a research paper by a supervisor or sectional head without contributing
much continues to be a common practice in our national laboratories
of CSIR, DRDO, ICMR, ICAR, etc. Fake degrees and honours are available
by mail and on internet. Appointments to senior posts of Directors/
Vice Chancellors are being increasingly made on the basis of political
understanding or pliability. Appointments and transfers of faculty
in state controlled institutions call for bribes. Bribes and kick-backs
are creeping in our national funding agencies and departments. Questionable
claims of achievements are being made by government departments
through lavish advertisements. Plagiarism and other academically
unethical practices are not at all uncommon even in our institutes
of excellence such as IITs and Central Universities.
The SSV has examined some of the cases of unethical practices
brought to its attention. A popular national magazine has listed
a number of Vice Chancellors as Chancellors of Vice and yet they
continue to do business with Knowledge. The tragedy is that not
many Heads of Institutions are prepared even to acknowledge the
existence of such a problem, leave alone take any action. The soft
peddaling of cases of plagiarism, and multiple publications of essentially
the same paper hurts the image of Indian science. It is most painful
to see that despite a clear evidence of plagiarism being given by
peers in India, no action is taken. The infamous case of Prof Rajput,
the VC of Kumaon University, is in point. The SSV and numerous others
made all efforts to move the President of India, the state and central
governments but nothing would move till three American scientists
wrote to the President for an immediate action. This point was later
elaborated further by Dr Indira Nath who was inducted in as a member
of the enquiry committee in this case.
Prof R Natarajan, Chairman AICTE, spoke on professional ethics,
values, and accountability of engineers and engineering teachers.
While engineers have a special responsibility in the profession,
the engineering teacher has responsibilities towards teaching, guidance,
consultancy, R&D, etc. He discussed the principles of professional
engineering ethics and the virtues of a professional engineer and
academic integrity. A code of conduct for engineers in Tamil Nadu
was presented. With rampant corruption around, Prof Natarajan said,
we must correct prevalent unethical practices with a top-down approach
and then at grass roots.
Dr Vasantha Muthuswamy, Dy D G, ICMR spoke on genetic and genomic
research and the ensuing issues of accountability. Genetic engineering,
cloning, embryo and stem cell research, genetically modified organisms,
gene therapy, transplantation etc have opened a pandora's box as
far as societal and global concerns with ethical, legal and social
issues are concerned. The need of the hour, according to Dr Muthuswamy,
is to develop appropriate scientific and ethical review procedures
and regulatory systems. And, it should be our long term strategy
to sensitize researchers and to teach principles and policies of
research ethics in academic institutions.
Prof P N Srivastava discussed the role of scientific societies
and academies in creating awareness on ethical issues, in monitoring
unethical practices and in applying moral pressure on concerned
authorities for punitive action. He highlighted the activities of
the SSV, in particular the conduct of four national seminars on
various aspects of Ethics by the Society in the last decade or so
(Note: the Proceedings of these Seminars are available with the
SSV), its efforts in enquiring into a no of plagiarism cases brought
to the attention of the Society, and its sensitization programs..
Prof Srivastava queried if we need an Office of Research Integrity
(as in USA), or if INSA could perform a proactive role. He also
made several suggestions for ensuring ethical practices. One that
needs our whole hearted support to improve accountability is that
an approved and final copy of the PhD thesis of a student should
list the names of the examiners of the Thesis so that it is a public
Several interventions by participants made suggestions on code
of conduct for ethical practices and its implementation. Dr P N
Tiwari detailed a model code and steps to implement it. Dr A R Verma
suggested that those who may have done something unethical inadvertantly
should be given an opportunity to confess and clear their conscience.
And, some felt that we must take action against senior scientists
for their unethical actions to set a good example.
A summarized version of the proceedings of the Seminar will be
circulated to the interested participants. It was generally agreed
that unethical practices in the pursuit of S&T in our country
are a matter of serious concern. Spreading awareness of the importance
of ethical conduct throughout the scientific community should be
one of the major goals of scientific societies and leading scientists.
And, like charity, Ethics should begin at home, with our scientific
leaders and administrators as role models.
K L Chopra