A study by the Mexican Academy of Sciences has revealed a deeply entrenched culture of cheating among a large proportion of scientists, who place ethics way down their list of priorities.
Forty per cent confessed to "frequent" ethical lapses in their work, according to the study, which interviewed 146 researchers - some with 30 years' experience -in 18 scientific institutions. Ten per cent of the scientists self-reported "very frequent" irregularities. Interview subjects said that the most common ethical problems were "lack of scientific rigour, fraud, plagiarism and abuse of students".
The survey found that 38 per cent of interviewed scientists said it was rare for lecturers and postgraduate students to discuss, or reflect on, ethical issues.
César Dominguez Pérez-Tejada and Rogelio Macias-Ordonez, both from the Ecology Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Unam), carried out the interviews at Unam, the Autonomous Metropolitan University, the Southern Frontier College, the Chamela Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve and the universities of Yucatán, Hidalgo, Morelos and Tlaxcala.
Some 66 per cent of the scientists interviewed agreed that ethics was an important consideration in their daily practices. The remainder said ethical considerations played no part in their work.
Nevertheless, some 80 per cent of the survey group were of the opinion that Mexico's scientific community would benefit from sharing an explicit ethical code.
The study is included in the book The Role of Ethics in Research and Higher Education , which has just been republished with new data by the Mexican Academy of Sciences.
The study's authors conclude that the challenge for science in Mexico is to "confront the culture of cheating".
They call for a better system of identifying scientists who regularly engage in unethical behaviour and for stronger emphasis to be placed on the fact that while history will be the final judge of such behaviour, the present cost is shared by all.