What students should know about ethical scholarship

My institution has weekly “lunch-and-learn” type gatherings for the faculty.  Recently, I attended one of these that was on the topic of ethical scholarship.  Much of the preliminary lecture had to do with what sorts of ethical dilemmas faculty have when conducting research.  The second portion of the lunch-and-learn was a discussion.  One of the questions posed was: what should students know about ethical scholarship?

My colleagues had all sorts of interesting responses.  Students should take responsibility for completing the assignments (this implies they aren’t completing the assignments in a satisfactory manner).  Students should discuss and understand the institution’s IRB policies and procedures.  Et cetera.  All these responses were valid and interesting.

But I was starting to form an idea about how this related to what I have seen in the library.  I couldn’t quite articulate it at the lunch-and-learn, but I want to attempt to articulate it here.

In talking to faculty as well as teaching courses on source evaluation, I have begun to notice that students have a hard time articulating why they choose a specific source.  Many just want to fulfill the professor’s expectations; they don’t care why they chose something so long as the professor approves.  Others will cite the title: “the title suggests it’s about the topic I’m researching.”  If my instruction session is going well, they’ll often start talking about the press or journal that put out the resource they found.  This is okay for a 50-minute instruction session; it’s hard to get everything in during that time.  But I started to connect dots.

I have already realized that my trusted sources are not trusted sources in the grander scheme of things: just because I believe the anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists who argue in peer reviewed texts that gender is a spectrum and a construct (not a biological attribute), does not mean that anyone else buys it when I use those texts as evidence.  I realized that people who aren’t in academia don’t necessarily buy that scholarly peer-reviewed articles are reputable or authoritative.  Though I think there are many, many, many factors at play, I think one significant reason for this disregard for academic sources is because people do not know how they are created.  People outside academia don’t realize how a scholar spends 6+ years in graduate school studying what they’re writing about.  Then, once they’re out of grad school, they keep studying it; they focus their writing and teaching on it.  And then they write an article, which gets reviewed by other people who have spent the majority of their lives studying and understanding the topic.  Only when the reviewers okay the article does it get published.  These scholarly articles take a whole lot of work and expertise to craft!

And people just don’t know it.

So, I think many of these undergraduates don’t know why they have to use specific types of sources.  Or why these scholarly publications are better than a blog post or a Wikipedia article.

Students knowing and understanding the scholarly communications process might help them understand why their professors want them to use scholarly publications.  If students understood that scholarly communications often requires expertise…and not of just one person.  Scholarly communications has an ethical component: that the articles are backed by expertise and research.

Understanding the scholarly communications process is similar to understanding how an IRB works.  Students can start fitting their research into the ethical frameworks upheld by the institution (e.g. IRB) and the scholarly community at large (e.g. scholarly communication).


So, I’m not sure if I really articulated that well.  But it’s a bit farther along.  Writing helps to test out (essay) thoughts and clarify them.  That’s in part what this blog is for.


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