Why do people cheat? What compels them to fabricate data? Guess, both these questions would have to be addressed in separate ways to come to a final conclusion as to what really motivates people to do such deplorable acts.
I'd like to start with Dr. Mann's testimony from outer space. He arrives at this new planet where he was hoping to find life, but to his horror it is uninhabitable. The hero who prepared to embark on this mission to sacrifice his life for a billion others suddenly wants nothing else but to survive and for achieving that he does what no other human or man has done in his lifetime, to fabricate data not from Earth, but from outer space, just because he can breathe once again or get a chance to live. What might have gone through Mann's mind while doing this? He was saving himself. What is more important than that? Survival justifies all that we do, dictating our morals even though we may hide behind the fragile curtains of religion.
Dr. Mann forgot his mission when his life was in danger, but the scientists here on Earth what makes them forget their mission to begin with. I wonder do they even have a goal to begin with. On second thoughts, maybe their goal is to succeed in life without giving any consideration to morals and ethics that are required to be a scientist.
Shouldn't there be an oath just like the Hippocratic oath for scientists? I, would be or current doctor, would take it as my duty to not to get seduced by the easy way of fabricating my own data, but would instead work hard on getting that p<0.05 with proper controls and sample size. Or maybe if we can add a passage or two in Bible, Gita, Quran and the other holy books that thou shall not make your own data and tailor your images unless you want to go to the eighth ring of hell added especially for such evil doers by Dante on special request. Although, we do have our legal system in place working hard to persecute the wrong doers, who might get missed by Karma and Satan.
With these special measures in place would make sure that the future generation of scientists wouldn't fall into the temptation of these acts. But what really is motivating these people to go to these lengths and breadths to do it in first place. Let's look at the different categories these people might fall into.
1. The Victimized. They are being influenced by higher authority, in that case the question turns to this higher authority's purpose.
2. The Ignorant. They don't know what they are doing. Ignorance and innocence aren't equal.
3. The super-smart squad. They think this is smart way to work around the hard work of spending long hours in the lab.
4. The person with influence. No wonder, what had brought them inside was not their own talent, but a phone call. The question then turns towards the entire hiring committee and their morals.
Whichever category they fall into, they have something in common and that is the fear to fail in the job that has been given to them by a supervisor or to a supervisor by the university or by their own minds. And like Yoda says fear drives you to the dark side.
Ethical questions also encompass senior scientists' and the heads mentality to not just harass but also to influence, but those are topics for another post and for another day.