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Physical therapists shall enhance their expertise through the lifelong acquisition and refinement of knowledge, skills, abilities, and professional behaviors.

Principle 6, APTA Code of Ethics

CASE 4.1 Massaging the Data

For years, Scott Conway has resented teaching at a less prestigious school, and he also feels overdue for a promotion to full professor. To improve his chances for both a promotion and a teaching position at a more prominent university, he insists on being the first author listed in articles he develops with the graduate students he supervises. His curriculum vitae, which no one at his school has checked closely, contains misleading entries designed to make his contributions to several research projects appear significantly greater than they were, although he has never engaged in outright fabrication. The former chair of his department characterized his résumé as a fine example of “ultimate spin,” making the trivial seem grand.

Currently, Conway is desperate to renew a substantial grant from a school district for research he hopes will show that participation in a school band is equivalent in exercise value to that provided by the state-mandated physical education program. This particular school district has an exceptional football team and is intent on promoting the athletic program in every possible way, including its half-time entertainment. To do this, the district wants to use Conway’s research to exempt band members from state-mandated physical education units. Conway is confident the project has promise, but the results have been inconclusive so far, and he doubts that the school district will continue to fund his research unless significant results are likely. He knows there is a way to massage the data by highlighting the promising results and not reporting some conflicting data. He also knows it is unlikely that anyone will be caught. Convinced he is doing no serious harm to anyone, he quickly makes the changes and mails the grant proposal.1


The validity and usefulness of scientific studies depend on whether researchers proceed with scientific integrity. As the APTA document “Integrity in Physical Therapy Research” states, “A concern for integrity in research follows quite naturally from the dual commitment to research and professional ethics.”2 In everyday life, moral integrity (integritas means “wholeness” in Latin) is a complex virtue that implies respect for others, honesty, fairness, decency, and moral consistency.

In science, moral integrity implies scientific integrity, a virtue that combines and extends several key values:

  1. Respect for autonomy, shown by securing informed consent from persons who participate in research projects;

  2. Justice, shown by a concern about who benefits from scientific experimentation;

  3. Humaneness, shown by acting with beneficence toward both humans and (research) animals; and

  4. Honesty, shown by, for example, providing full disclosure of research findings as well as giving proper credit to authors of publications.

In Chapter 9 we discuss fraud—which is what Scott ...

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