A correspondent points out that this month’s Physics Today has a couple articles about ethical issues involved in how physics research is conducted in the U.S.
Most of this doesn’t really apply to the kind of research I know best, theoretical research in physics and research in math. One main issue considered is the trustworthiness of experimental data, and as far as I can tell, in elementary particle physics the data is quite trustworthy. Since the collaborations that produce these results are so huge, many people are involved in going over any published result of any interest, so even if someone were tempted to fake or manipulate data, it would be hard to get away with.
Another issue of concern is the treatment of young experimentalists, who are often overworked and under-recognized. But the situation of theorists is generally different. In most cases the problem for them is thesis advisors who ignore them, not ones who pay close attention to what they are doing and make them work too hard. There is a fundamental ethical problem in the treatment of young theorists by the physics community, that of producing far more particle physics Ph.D.s than there are jobs for. This creates a brutal situation for young people, while it is to some degree in the interests of those who are established in permanent positions to let this go on.
The main ethical problem in particle theory research these days, a fundamental lack of honesty in how the results of this research are evaluated, doesn’t seem to be addressed at all in the Physics Today articles.
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