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Ethics Works Both Ways for NIEHS Employee

By Eddy Ball
May 2010

NIEHS Bioethicist David Resnik, J.D., Ph.D.
Resnik, above, is more often involved in ethical determinations before an impropriety - or even the appearance of one - occurs than afterwards. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Usually, applying ethical standards results in a few extra, but necessary steps for conscientious NIH employees - a free lunch or dinner graciously declined, a nice gift politely refused or returned, careful review and revision of a clinical study plan in the interest of patient rights or humane treatment of animals, or sometimes even giving up an honorarium or outside job that just won't pass muster with the ethics office.

But for NIEHS Bioethicist David Resnik, J.D., Ph.D., applying ethical standards recently helped him protect his own intellectual property from improper use by a professor at a university in the Czech Republic and regain something he might very well have lost otherwise.

Alerted by an email from a student group overseas that included copies of his paper and the allegedly plagiarized version, Resnik compared the documents and decided that the similarities between the two were too great to be coincidental. He conferred with NIEHS Deputy Ethics Counselor Bruce Androphy, J.D., and then contacted administrators at the university, who agreed that a violation had occurred.

Confronted with the embarrassing evidence, the professor resigned his deanship at the university and now faces further disciplinary action for his violation of ethics - and plain old common sense.

The lesson, of course, is simple - just what every college professor routinely tells his or her students. As well as being in terribly bad taste, plagiarism is a form of intellectual theft that can mean a failing grade for a student and the loss of employment or reputation for the very people who should know better.

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