Case Study One Review

Click on the highlighted words to see explanations of the ethical issues raised in this case study.

A graduate student in his fourth year of study is under pressure from his advisor to publish a manuscript. In addition, the student worries that if he does not publish soon he will not be able to get a top-rated postdoctoral position.

The student’s research looks at the effects of combinations of certain foods on cholesterol levels in humans. After obtaining approval for the use of human subjects in his study from the Institutional Review Board (IRB), the student recruits 30 subjects for each of his control and treatment groups. For three months, subjects in the treatment group follow a specific diet, have their blood drawn weekly, and keep a food log whereas subjects in the control group have their blood drawn weekly and keep a food log. During the intervention phase of the study, just over one third of the subjects in the treatment group and one quarter of the control group subjects drop out of the study.

At the end of the intervention, the student is preparing to meet with his advisor regarding his results. To his dismay, the student discovers that the data he has collected are insufficient to perform a robust analysis due to the high subject attrition rates. The student knows that his advisor will require him to collect additional data which will most likely involve rerunning the experiment. However, he does not feel that he has time to rerun the experiment, and though he enjoyed conducting the study, he is anxious to complete his graduate work and move on to postdoctoral studies. After reflecting on all the time and energy he has invested in this study to-date, the student finds himself trying to decide among the following courses of action: