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Lunch with Dr. Lefkowitz

On Tuesday, November 8th, Honor Council facilitated a luncheon with Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, a respected professor of medicine and Nobel Prize Laureate. He led 30 members of the Duke Honor Council community through a thought-provoking conversation on science and research ethics.

Dr. Lefkowitz focused on the ethical implications behind the Anil Potti research fabrication scandal. Students attending were captivated by his first-hand account of the situation, which incited excellent discussion regarding blame, the reasons behind falsification of scientific data, and how science ethics translates back to everyday life. The “chain of power” between Potti, fellow researchers, and the head of the laboratory was also analyzed. In particular, Dr. Lefkowitz told the story of the “hero” of the case, a third year graduate student who upheld his own morals by reporting the situation to his superiors continuously until he was heard.

Through this conversation, those attending were encouraged to think deeply about what they would have done in this situation. In life here at Duke, science ethics can be extended past the lab; preserving honesty, integrity, and humility is vital inside and outside of the research environment.

Dr. Lefkowitz ended his luncheon by sharing a favorite, “tongue-in-cheek” philosophical essay, “On Bullshit” by Harry Frankfurt. Duke students who are interested in understanding different styles of communication and falsification should give this recommendation a read!

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