The Honor Principle & Ethical Science

The Honor Principle is one of Reed’s most precious traditions. It is also the basis of all good science. All work in Chem 201 and 202, laboratory work included, is guided by the Honor Principle. The lab notebooks, reports, spectra, etc., that you turn in for evaluation are expected to be your own work, and to accurately reflect what happened in and out of the lab to the best of your knowledge. Deliberately misrepresenting one’s work through fabrication or omission of data, or claiming the work of another as your own, are all violations of the Honor Principle.

The following expands on our expectations and the relationship between the Honor Principle and ethical science. Please read this page to the bottom at least once before beginning lab work.

In The Chem 201-202 Laboratory

The Honor Principle governs all parts of Chem 201/202, lab included. Some examples, by no means a complete list, of the honorable behavior that we expect include:

  • Making your notebook into an honest and complete record of what you have actually done. Only write down what you have done and observed yourself. Never invent notes for a procedure. Never alter or invent data. It is not unusual to have an experiment turn out differently from what you may have expected. It is also not unusual to wind up with an incomplete set of notes (unfortunately, this is most often discovered some time between the completion of lab work and the writing of the lab report). Both situations, apparently “wrong” data and/or “incomplete” records, create powerful emotional incentives to alter, invent, or fill in. Try to recognize these feelings when they arise. Once you become aware of them, accept that everyone experiences these situations, the emotions they generate, and that there is a way to navigate through these situations without acting dishonorably. When problems arise, come talk with your instructor and we will find a way to deal with the situation that keeps you on the right side of the Honor Principle.
  • From time to time, you may be asked to collaborate with another student or two. Procedures and observations carried out by other students must be properly attributed to them in your notebook and in your lab report. Record their full name and the date of their work.
  • From time to time, you will be expected to compare your observations with those published in the scientific literature. This literature includes textbooks, handbooks, web sites, journal articles, and so on. All data sources must be properly cited in your lab report.
  • Copy-and-paste has made plagiarism so easy and painless that many students aren’t even conscious of what they have done. Copy-and-paste has made plagiarism so easy and quick that many students aren’t even conscious of what they have done. Copy-and-paste has made … . Avoid temptation. Chem 201/202 lab reports are short. Write your entire report yourself starting from scratch. Type every word, number, and symbol. Do not copy-and-paste. Even when you collaborate with someone else in the lab, every word, figure, and table in your report must be your own. When you find it absolutely necessary to quote another source (data, graphs or figures, definitions, ideas), always make it crystal clear that the material comes from another source, “Smith and Chang [Smith, 1997] reported that…” and properly cite the source of your information.
  • Any activity that prevents other scientists from carrying out their work will be regarded as dishonorable behavior. This does not mean giving up your place in line at a popular apparatus, but it does mean that the following types of activities will not be tolerated:
    • breaking, stealing, hoarding, or failing to return shared/community apparatus
    • taking equipment or compounds from another student’s lab cabinet/work area
    • failing to notify an instructor that a shared apparatus is broken
    • carelessly wasting or destroying shared reagents
    • compromising the purity of shared reagents
    • intentionally giving out false instructions
    • engaging in unsafe activities (this includes leaving a workspace, apparatus, or reagent in a condition that creates hazards for others)
    • deliberately leaving a mess for others to clean up
    • deliberately interfering with another student’s procedure, materials, or notebook.

These are just a few examples of dishonorable lab behavior that lab instructors (mostly at other colleges) have reported over the years. Fortunately, these behaviors have been rare at Reed (and when they have occurred, they have usually been the result of haste, and almost never the intent to harm).

Honor = Self-Restraint

The Honor Principle has had a long life at Reed. Chris Lowe, ‘82, once wrote about the Honor Principle (reprinted from “Living With An Honor Principle”, Reed College, 1995, p. 5):

“…the Honor Principle is not a principle of freedom. Primarily it is a principle of restraint — self-restraint. It is an agreement not to act in certain ways.”

Self-restraint may not be the first words that come to mind when people think of “Reedies” or “Reed College”, but what do they know? In our experience, significant violations of the Honor Principle, especially in the context of lab science, have been very few in number. When it comes to academics, the average Reedie routinely places honor far ahead of other considerations. Reedies practice restraint – self-restraint – almost without being asked, and there is really very little need for external policing. That said, unfamiliar academic situations/demands may challenge our intuition about what constitutes honorable behavior and appropriate self-restraint. The list of Do’s & Don’t’s given above is designed to guide you through many of the situations you will encounter in the Chem 201/2 labs, but if you other situations arise and you have questions, please ask.

Self-Correcting & Ethical Science

Science is a self-correcting enterprise. This is a good thing because, while perfection is our goal when we step into the laboratory, it is rarely our reality. We blunder our way through one experimental trial after another. We make mistakes in our calculations. We fail to record potentially useful details, and so on. Nevertheless, we can (if we are willing to be honest with ourselves) detect our mistakes, re-attempt the experiment, gather more data, and perform more tests. As we (and others) correct our errors, our scientific contribution becomes stronger, more reliable, and more valuable.

Science is a self-correcting enterprise, however, only to the extent that scientists commit themselves to honesty, to self-restraint, to ethical behavior. When ambition and other drives lead to unethical behavior — falsified experiments and observations, suppressed or cherry-picked data, the failure to assign credit where it is due — the self-correcting mechanisms of science no longer function properly.

Good science can only be produced through honest conduct and reporting. Anything less is not good science. We hope that your experiences in Reed’s chemistry program affirm the truth of these statements, and encourage your support of the Reed Honor Principle.

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