Recent instances of scientifically unethical behaviour such as that of Woo Suk Hwang (see Nature 439, 122–123; doi:10.1038/439122a 2006) have put pressure on governments to take official measures. In Japan, for example, a data-falsification scandal shook the scientific community last year (see Nature 439, 514; 2006). In response, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), together with the Science Council of Japan, has decided to implement a code of conduct for scientists to detect and punish unethical acts: see http://www.scj.go.jp/ja/info/kohyo/pdf/kohyo-20-s3e-1.pdf.
Like the Hippocratic oath for physicians, the application of such a code to all scientific disciplines would surely be beneficial. It would make young researchers aware of the necessity of adopting ethical behaviour in the conduct of their work and would provide guidance on how to do so. Yet such misconduct must often stem from the ubiquitous pressure exerted on scientists to publish quickly and, if possible, in high-impact journals in order to have a career. The possibility of publishing a ground-breaking study depends on the quality and originality of the data. It can, therefore, become tempting to modify a few things here and there in a data set.
In this regard, adoption of a scientific code of conduct may not be enough. Efforts must be made in parallel to counteract the 'publish or perish' dogma. If there were a method for recognizing the value of a piece of work through the examination of its contribution to knowledge, rather than through the prestige of the journal in which it was published, this would be a good start.
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Ropert-Coudert, Y. Recognition could support a science code of conduct. Nature 447, 259 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/447259c