Research Ethics Roundup: Controversy over genetically modified rice, rehabilitating unethical researchers, and much more!

2013 is here, and what better way to kick off the New Year than with a brand new Research Ethics Roundup? In this installment, we take a look at the unprecedented rise of opiate painkiller prescriptions, the discrepancy between perceived and actual safety levels in laboratories, an international controversy over genetically modified foods used to fight pediatric malnutrition, and more!

‘Rehab’ helps errant researchers return to the lab: Restoring Professionalism and Integrity in Research (RePAIR), a program at Saint Louis University, seeks to rehabilitate researchers who have sullied their ethical records. With the help of a sizable grant from the National Institutes of Health, RePAIR has developed a three-day course that examines the factors that led to misconduct, reviews ethical decision-making skills, and assists researchers in developing plans to help ensure issues do not reoccur.

Rising painkiller addiction shows damage from drugmakers’ role in shaping medical opinion: Prescriptions of opioid painkillers have risen nearly 300% over the past twenty years. This is disturbing news given recent findings indicating that such medications may be significantly more addictive than originally reported. Factors that contributed to Food and Drug Administration approval and the aggressive distribution of the drugs, including clinical trials and drafting of policy, may have been unduly influenced by the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing the drugs.

Safety survey reveals lab risks: A recent survey conducted by Nature found that while most lab workers (86%) believe their labs are safe, nearly half had experienced injuries. The survey also found that about two-fifths of participants had not received safety training on specific hazards or agents they worked with, two-fifths of junior scientists reported that people worked alone in their lab every day, and close to one-fifth of researchers said that lab safety rules had negatively affected their lab productivity. According to Lou DiBerardinis, head of health and safety at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “this survey is a baseline study that leaves more questions than answers, but a perception survey is supposed to raise questions that need to be looked at.”

Golden rice trial triggers sackings, investigation: Three Chinese researchers who published a paper on the use of golden rice, a type of genetically modified rice with high levels of vitamin A, have been fired. Greenpeace East Asia, strong opponents of the use of genetically modified foods, had raised concerns about the study after the paper was published, prompting Chinese officials to report that the trial had been conducted without proper approval. Tufts University is now conducting an investigation to determine if the researchers complied with necessary regulations.

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