A Recent Case Here at UW
Misconduct and Whistleblowing
LANGURE: February 13, 2008
Robert Streiffer, Ph. D.
Sara Patterson, Ph. D.
Overview of Ethical Theories
Discussion of Elizabeth Goodwin Case
What did Goodwin do that was alleged to be wrong?
Theory Principle Practical Advice
Egoism A person ought to maximized the long-term Critically reflect on my own goals and
Do you think that what Goodwin did was wrong?
wrong? satisfaction of their own interests. how best to achieve them.
Virtue Ethics A person ought to do what a virtuous person Observe my professional rules; be an
(researcher, graduate student, etc.) would do. honest, responsible, and upright citizen
What do you think of how the students in the lab of my group.
Utilitarianism A person ought to do what has the best Give equal consideration to the like
handled the situation?
situation? overall consequences for individual welfare. interests of all individuals affected by
Deontology A person ought to respect individuals’ moral Treat people’s rights and issues of
How would the different ethical theories (egoism, virtue rights and other moral rules. fairness and justice as constraints on
ethics, utilitarianism, and deontology) evaluate her
Responses to Misconduct Whistleblowing: What is it?
Approach person in question “Whistle-
“Whistle-blowing is the voluntary release of
nonpublic information, as a moral protest, by a
Approach in-group supervisor
member or former member of an organization
Approach out-of-group supervisor
outside the normal channels of communication to
h l bl an appropriate audience about illegal and/or
immoral conduct in the organization or conduct in
Boatright, John. 1997. Ethics and the Conduct of the organization that is opposed in some significant
Business. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. way to the public interest.”
Whistleblowing: What isn’t it? Whistleblowing: What isn’t it?
Not done by an outsider (e.g., not done by a Not legally required (e.g., not a compelled witness)
Done to prevent or correct some wrong (e.g., not
Not mere disagreement without disclosure of new merely to seek revenge)
information (e.g., not merely a private letter to the
editor expressing disagreement)
Information must be believed to relate to matters of
substantial public importance (e.g., not merely
Relevant Questions to Ask Policy: Potential Dangers
Whistle-blowing should not be undertaken lightly, as it has Potential for abuse
the potential to ruin careers and damage institutions that
serve the public good. Those contemplating whistle-blowing
should ask themselves the following questions:
Potential for unhelpful interference in the research
“Is the situation of sufficient moral importance to justify
whistle-bl i ?”
“Do you have all the facts and have you properly understood
“Have all internal channels and steps short of whistle-
whistle- Potential for escalation of valid scientific
blowing been exhausted?”
disagreements into claims about unethical conduct
How much information should be revealed, and to whom?
Does the violation concern an issue that falls within my
responsibility in the institution?
Does whistle-blowing have a reasonable chance of success?
Policy: The Benefits The Components of a Policy
Helps maintain integrity of the research enterprise “Statement of responsibility”
by fostering an atmosphere in which misconduct is
viewed as a grievous ethical violation and, when
misconduct occurs, by alerting others to its “A clearly defined procedure for reporting”
“Well-trained personnel to receive and investigate
Encourages early, corrective action
Establishes internal mechanisms that can be more
productive in fixing institutional problems than
“A commitment to take appropriate action”
Protects justified whistle-blowers, who do the
whistle- “A guarantee against retaliation”
research community a tremendous service
CALS Whistleblowing Policy
Does the policy have each of the components?
How could it be different? Stronger, weaker?
Does it strike the right balance in terms of potential
dangers and benefits?
What improvements could be made?