I want to apologize for the infrequency of my posting lately. Much of it can be laid at the feet of end-of-term grading, although today I’ve been occupied with a meeting of scientists at different career stages to which I was invited to speak about some topics I discuss here. (More about that later.) June will have more substantive ethics-y posts, honest!
Indeed, to tide you over, I want to ask for your responses to a case study I wrote for the final exam for my “Ethics in Science” class.
First, the case:
Peter is a graduate student in a laboratory that does a variety of research projects, including work with tissue culture and in vivo studies with mice.
Lately, a couple of Peter’s classmates, one of the lab technicians, and even Peter’s advisor have been bringing their dogs with them to work. At first, the dogs stayed in the office spaces, but now they seem to have free run of the laboratory area. This worries Peter a lot. Some of the materials used in their lab work would be harmful to the dogs if ingested (as would broken glassware). Since one of the dogs is a puppy that isn’t yet trained and has been leaving puddles on the lab floor, its presences introduces a safety hazard for the humans working in the lab (who might slip on the puddles). Most worrying to Peter, the scent of the dogs seems to be stressing out the mice they are using in their studies, something that might affect the quality of the data they get from these in vivo studies as well as increasing mouse distress.
Peter has tried raising these concerns with his advisor, but his advisor has not taken them very seriously. Peter feels like this is a serious issue in terms of human safety, the well being of the mice, the well being of the pet dogs, and the data quality. However, he is afraid that if he reports the situation to the IACUC, even anonymously, it will be obvious to his advisor that he was the one who made the complaint.
Should Peter communicate his concerns to the IACUC? Why or why not?
Now, the special instructions for the blog audience in thinking about your response:
Imagine the PI in this case (Peter’s advisor) is your colleague, and that you and this PI are at approximately the same career stage with approximately the same amount of power. What would you want Peter to do in this situation? What would you advise Peter to do (and would this differ from what you’d want him to do)? If you were aware of the situation (e.g., because Peter mentioned it to you), what, if anything, would you do about it?
Note that if you think it will lead to a more candid discussion about this case, you are welcome to adopt a pseudonym for the purposes of this discussion.