Research ethics: Thinking differently across cultures

In an April post to this website, we commented on ORI’s video on common concerns that arise in research labs with international postdocs.  That video illustrated ways that communication issues are often barriers in the international environment of scientific labs.  Along with language issues, cultural perspectives add complexity to conveying information, and the more sensitive the subject, the more difficult the task of conveying ideas and the more likely that misunderstandings will arise.

A resource for thinking about these issues is The Geography of Thought, in which Richard Nisbett discusses studies done on cognitive thinking in various cultures.  Although the book focuses on Western and Eastern cultures and societies, the effort to understand the cognitive process is also useful in understanding differences between all groups.  One reviewer pointed out that the research in the book challenges the assumption that thinking is the same across all cultures.

This book, like the video described in the April post, does not focus specifically on issues of responsible conduct of research or of image integrity.  Nonetheless, it sets in context the complex nature of interactions and ideas across cultures.  We need to understand more than language differences to have clear communication on matters of research and especially ethics.

Just as science is global, so must the reach for research integrity be across cultures.

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