The Adventures of Charles Letagne – A Salutary Tale of Ethical Responsibility

A former colleague, who I worked with in an academic context, derived great amusement from referring to a paper by the (imaginary) academic Charles Letagne. He used it to illustrate a number of issues around ethics and integrity in the context of research. He would circulate the paper amongst a class and ask them to pick up on the ethical improprieties, as a means of education on best practice.

This was a highly effective teaching tool, although it was surprising how many students did not grasp the pun in the imaginary author’s name.

I used to think that there could not possibly be real people with such an unethical, or perhaps unscrupulous, approach to their work. However, over the years I have observed people really doing things that would have fitted on a descriptor of the activities of Mr Letagne.

Do we all know a Charles Letagne? We probably do, or a combination of people whose behaviour equate to that of Mr Letagne. I can think of a number. One springs to mind who professes expertise in a number of areas, regarding which I have seen no evidence of him gathering any training or qualifications. This Charles does not let that stop him working in these areas, even with vulnerable clients. More to the point, no-one else stops him either. Professional body? Well, if they know about his activities they are doing nothing.

Then there is another Charles, or maybe Charlene. She professes an accreditation she does not have and draws every possible pecuniary benefit.
Or maybe another Charlie, who works in an academic institution (not the University of Leicester) but is dismissive of academic qualifications.

I could go on but here I have to stop and ask myself a simple question. Whilst professional bodies are responsible for the policing of people claiming to have specific qualifications and accreditations, how can they do so if people like me do nor whistle blow? They can’t. Simple truth is, if I know about a transgressor the onus is on me to inform the accreditation body. Same goes for anyone else who knows of a transgressor, the onus is on you to report it.

If I am aware of who the Charles Letagnes are and do not report, then I myself become a Charles Letagne by association.

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Martin Coffey

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Career Management Skills Developer, Researcher Development Team.

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