| Thinking hard|
or hardly thinking?
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions. Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy, in that it regards internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.
Integrity is often associated with reputation, and as such public figures, political leaders and customer-oriented businesses who have a long history of success will talk about their own integrity in order to continue to be successful. A car dealership that doesn't practice "bait-and-switch" tactics, an elected representative who doesn't accept donations from corporate interests or "flip-flop" on issues, and a local business that honors all deals and agreements can be said to have integrity.
Most universities keep an office or department for academic integrity, which upholds an arbitrarily-defined "honor code" in order to minimize cheating, plagiarism, undesirable student behaviors (such as rioting after winning a championship) and unethical research tactics (most notably falsification, but also making sure proper credit is given where due). While most of their enforcement duties involve the expulsion of cheating students and denial of certificates for such offenses, every once in a while the offices are asked to step in to resolve disputes against and among professors. A noteworthy example is the case of University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill.
At some schools, individual departments can even have their own academic integrity committee, which would report to the office at the university level. These committees can meet ad hoc to address specific instances of impropriety, or perennially in order to maintain high standards and prevent unethical studies such as the Stanford prison experiment from occurring.
Academic integrity offices have a self-serving component, in that if a university suffers from a blow to its reputation for unethical practices, it can start to lose funding from lower enrollments, reduced donations from benefactors, fewer endowments from losing research grants, and loss of accreditation.
Most large corporations define internal ethical standards in order to maintain integrity among its employees and directors (and, in some cases, its customers and vendors). The documentation, training and enforcement of these standards is a form of risk management, although sometimes the standards are created by a human resources department. These standards are set to be completely self-serving, as the loss of integrity can ultimately mean the failure of the business. For example, the employee handbook of one satellite television provider spends a page discussing the meaning of the phrase, "Do what you say you are going to do."
More businesses and large corporations are electing to choose "open-door" policies, where if even the most lowly employee has a problem that needs addressing, he or she can go to any level of management he or she feels necessary to address (if that employee can't ask their immediate supervisor, possibly due to the supervisor's involvement in an impropriety, they can go to their supervisor's boss, or boss's boss, all the way up to the CEO if necessary). In addition or sometimes alternatively to the open door policy, some companies set up a third-party whistleblower hotline, where problems can be addressed anonymously.
Ultimately, companies that take pains to establish guidelines for integrity are concerned with the expense involved in unethical business practices. For example, a purchasing manager who takes kickbacks for buying a certain product from a certain vendor might not see that he's doing the company any harm in lining his own pocket, but that product might either be against specifications, of questionable quality, easily substituted with a less expensive product, or otherwise completely unnecessary. Thus, continued purchases will affect departmental budgets, reduce profits at all levels, and adversely affect shareholders and managers alike.
At a more extreme level, unethical practices could shut down the entire company for good, even if the practice is by association and only involves a few unscrupulous employees. The demise of the accounting firm Andersen Consulting is a perfect example of a couple bad apples spoiling the bunch. Their association with Enron and their assistance in covering up the company's debts, which was what Enron requested and paid for, resulted in the company losing most of their other clients who had no questionable accounting at all, despite otherwise clean track-records.
Many individuals feel that integrity is an important aspect in one's own personality. Concepts such as honor, accountability and dependability are reflections of personal integrity.
Sometimes it's as simple as just doing what you say you are going to do. Some people still talk about the good old days when agreements were made on nothing more than a promise and a handshake. While idealistic, and maybe a little naive, agreements made under contract and fiduciary advice can be exploited or rendered null through legal loopholes and practices as well. Two or more parties following through with an agreement as expected shows genuine integrity. Even reaching amicable terms for the separation of an existing agreement without follow-through can show integrity as well, as long as all parties part ways on good terms.
Personal integrity is of some importance to small businesses and local agents, such as insurance agents, realtors, bankers and public officials (whether elected, appointed or hired). It's easy for a high-ranking official or the CEO of a large company to dismiss allegations of impropriety from a few outraged citizens when they're living in a mansion in the Hamptons—it's a little harder to do when they live down the street and their children go to the same school as yours.
Gigabytes of guidelines have been compiled when it comes to integrity among scientists and the science community, above and beyond staunch adherence to the scientific method and peer review process. In addition to these standards, as well as the standards set by academic integrity, scientists are held to very high standards in order for their research laboratories to continue to receive funding—falsehoods and scandals are very detrimental to the continued success of those institutions. Concerns such as proper guidelines for animal testing and policies against the hoarding of knowledge (e.g., for personal or monetary gain) are addressed. Research facilities encourage respect among peers as well as friendly debate and disagreements, not only to facilitate a positive environment but also to ensure any number of researchers do not fall into the traps of groupthink or arguing for the sake of arguing.
The accurate and robust citation of other studies, as well as heavy documentation on the original concepts that any new research or study is built upon, is also an important aspect of scientific integrity. Since almost all modern scientists are "standing on the shoulders of giants", giving credit where credit is due not only gives the peer reviewers a starting point, but also shows respect for the originators. Claiming original responsibility for an idea, theory or research that was not your own is a huge no-no, even more so than in academics.
Additionally, since being discovered for falsification of data (through incomplete testing, cherry picking, discrimination or sheer malice) can ultimately destroy a scientist's reputation (or, at least, ban them to the fringes of pseudoscience), it is in the best interest of the scientist and his or her lab to uphold and practice the strictest of ethical guidelines. In short, it is better to be cautious and possibly wrong than to be reckless and deliberately wrong.
Often, integrity lacks a certain quantifiability—what one party might see as genuine, another party might see as duplicitous. Morality, with its many definitions, some universal and some localized, weigh in heavily on the concept of integrity. The study of ethics includes many factors that impact integrity. Factors of integrity are also discussed in sociology and philosophy as well as game theory.
- Okay, I ripped the definition from Wikipedia. Sue me. This article is about what it is, not what was done to write it. A little irony is good chicken soup for the soul.
- To paraphrase Edward Abbey, the first purpose of any institution is to perpetuate the institution.
- See Isaac Newton
- It would be hard to be taken serious by anyone if you claimed to have discovered or invented something that had long been commonly known, let alone something brand new, but that doesn't stop some people—take the case of Nikola Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi both claiming to have invented radio.