Is science for everyone, or just the morally upright?
In recent years, when we talk about prisons and human research ethics, we are typically discussing the participation of prisoners in research. This can relate to whether their participation was genuinely voluntary and did they consent. For example, the use of prisoner organs in China. Within the research integrity frame, most of our discussion about prison often relates to cheats and charlatans being convicted to prison. This story from Canada raises a consideration that is relevant to research around the world. In fact, members of the AHRECS team have encountered this in our own research. Should prisoners who have been convicted of serious crimes be permitted to author research outputs?
- In 1992, Valery Fabrikant murdered four of his colleagues at Concordia University in Montreal. He has since published nearly 60 scientific papers from prison.
- His case highlights an increasingly common ethical dilemma in which a scientists’ behaviors and beliefs are taken into account when considering the merits of their work.
- While one hopes that all scientists would be moral and upstanding individuals, this unfortunately isn’t always the case. Is that a legitimate reason to suppress the knowledge they generate?
Between 1996 and 2021, Valery Fabrikant has published nearly 60 scientific papers across more than a dozen journals, and he’s done it all from a prison cell.
On August 24, 1992, the now former associate professor of mechanical engineering at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec shot and killed four of his colleagues and wounded another. Prior to the massacre, Fabrikant’s dozen-year employment at the university had been antagonistic, to say the least. The irascible, albeit brilliant, scientist quarreled with peers and irked students. Angered at being repeatedly denied tenure, he blamed everyone around him. His anger eventually boiled over into mass murder.
Murderer by day, scientist by night
Sentenced to life in prison for his heinous crime, Fabrikant quickly turned to scientific research to pass the time. In September 1994, he submitted a paper on mathematically analyzing cracks in concrete to the International Journal of Solids and Structures. It was published in January 1996.