An Assignment on Academic and Scientific Integrity

I teach an introductory chemistry course at a local community college as an adjunct instructor.

This is a “reading” assignment that I give to my first semester introductory chemistry students.  I have two reasons for giving them this assignment.  The first is so they understand what “cheating” really means.  The second is to get them to see how science operates and what is and what science isn’t.

In addition, at the beginning of each semester, we find it necessary to discuss what constitutes cheating in an academic setting.  I choose to do it this way.

The answers, as has been pointed out to me, are quite readily available on the Internet.

  1. What is meant by “bad or bogus” science?
  2. What is meant by scientific fraud?
  3. What are or were N-rays?
  4. Was this a case of “bad” science or scientific fraud?
  5. What or who was the Piltdown man?
  6. Was this a case of “bad” science, scientific fraud, or something entirely different?
    1. Note on difference between fraud and misconduct (added 11 May 2018)
  7. What are or was “polywater”?
  8. Was this a case of “bad” science, scientific fraud, or something entirely different?
  9. Within the context of scientific research, which of the following individuals committed scientific fraud?
    • David Baltimore
    • John Darsee
    • Martin Fleischman and Stanley Pons
    • Eric Poehlman
    • Pattium Chiranjeevi
    • Dr. Nancy Olivieri
  10. Within the context of scientific research, which of the individuals identified above were simply guilty of just bad or incomplete science?
  11. Identify a situation in the past two or three years where the validity of scientific research has been questioned (And, believe me, there have been quite a few situations.)
  12. Are there times when it is acceptable to work together in the laboratory or with others in different laboratories on the same research problem?
  13. When is it not acceptable to not work together?
  14. What would you do if a colleague of yours submitted work that you did and submitted the work as theirs without giving you credit for the work?
  15. So why do we discuss issues of “bad or incomplete” science and/or scientific misconduct in CHEM 121?
  16. Considering the policies and practices of Dutchess Community College, how does this apply to you?


It is very interesting to see how the students respond to these questions.  Many times, they find some information about a person and quickly conclude that person is guilty of scientific fraud.  The person in question was only defending one of their co-workers and the suggestion of fraud was superfluous at best.  The charges were later withdrawn because it was clear that there was no wrong doing.

Students will tell me that something is fraudulent, even it does not fit the definition that provided (same thing about bad and “bogus” science).  I have been doing this assignment for about three years and while I have no definitive data, it seems to me that there has been a  generational shift in what we term as “bad” science and scientific fraud.  Many students are also quick to suggest the involvement of a lawyer when there is even the slightest suggestion of impropriety.

This assignment came about several years ago when two of my students handed in the exact same work.  It was clear that one had copied from the other (if they had worked together, I don’t think certain references would have been the same nor would the spelling and grammatical errors would not have been the same as well).

So I created the first form of this assignment.  And the two students whose work on the previous assignment was the inspiration for this assignment turned in the exact same answers.  In other words, they “cheated” on the assignment on cheating.


14 thoughts on “An Assignment on Academic and Scientific Integrity

  1. The more I teach, the more I am struck by the different goals of teachers and students. Teachers always want their students to learn. Students often just want to figure out how to get through the hoops and a good grade. The most efficient means to that end makes perfect sense to them.

    I’m struck by how many students simply do not comprehend the concept of plagiarism. It never crosses their minds.

    Keep up the effort.

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