Fiction movies for RCR education

Teaching students and researchers about rules and norms in research is one thing, but empowering them to deal with moral dilemmas in research practice is a challenge. We argue that fictional narratives can be very useful in exploring the tough choices scientists have to make. In this project, we investigated the usefulness and applicability of a selection of fiction movies for RCR education.

Last modified: May 29, 2017

This is an internship project for the practical assignment of the master Philosophy, Bioethics and Health at VU University Amsterdam, performed by Christiaan Grigoleit, Bob Hoogenes and Isabella Vos.
Several major violations of research integrity shook up academia and society during the last decade. Fostering responsible conduct of research (RCR) and preventing research misbehaviour were put high on the agenda. Teaching students and researchers about rules and norms in research is one thing, but empowering them to deal with moral dilemmas in research practice is a challenge. We argue that fictional narratives can be very useful in exploring the tough choices scientists have to make. In this project, we investigated the usefulness and applicability of a selection of fiction movies for RCR education.

A format for structured description of (fragments of) movies was developed and after pilot testing consensus on the format was achieved. This format was applied to 31 movies. Legal and practical aspects of using (fragments of) movies for educational purposes and of sharing the teaching materials online (creative commons) were explored.

Not all movies in our initial selection were deemed useful for RCR education. Of the 31 movies we considered, 20 movies remained in the final selection. The main RCR topics addressed in these movies are: conflicts of interest, selective reporting and citation, scientific writing, authorship, research waste and data collection and study design issues.

  • Overview of selected fiction movies

    Click on the title for more information and selected fragments for education.

    Movie title Medium Key words Fragments Duration
    And the band played on YouTube Conflict of interest 1 2
    Awakenings Netflix Conflict of interest 1 5
    Creation DVD Conflict of interest, Scientific writing 3 2-8
    Dallas Buyers Club DVD Ethics (medical) 1 3
    Extreme measures DVD Ethics, Decision making 2 3-8
    Kinsey Youtube Policy, Education, Scientific writing 3 3-11
    Lorenzo’s oil DVD Ethics, Experimenter bias 7 2-25
    On being a scientist Youtube Intellectual property, Plagiarism, Student-supervisor relationship 1 2
    Silkwood DVD Research waste, Conflict of interest, Prevention 4 1-7
    Star Trek ‘Nothing human’ CBS website Ethics, Decision making 2 1-3
    The boys from Brazil Youtube Ethics (medical) 1 3
    The China syndrome Youtube Ethics (medical) 1 2
    The fly Youtube Ethics (medical), Authorship 2 1-4
    The Insider DVD Fraud, Conflict of interest, Prevention 3 1-9
    The Island DVD Conflict of interest 4 1-3
    The Lawnmower man DVD Publication bias, Reproducibility 5 1-8
    Wit Youtube Research waste 2 2-8

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  • Movies rejected for this project

    The Stanford Prison Experiments (2015)

    IMDB: Twenty-four male students out of seventy-five were selected to take on randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison situated in the basement of the Stanford psychology building.

    REJECTED: This film shows a close-up view of the Stanford Prison Experiments, which were performed at Stanford in 1971. Even though these experiments encourage discussion on many topics related to research ethics, this film fails to properly display any of them. It is too exaggerated and too ‘Hollywood’ to consider it realistic enough.

    The Experiment (2010)

    IMDB: 26 men are chosen to participate in the roles of guards and prisoners in a psychological study that ultimately spirals out of control.
    REJECTED: This film is a remake of the original German movie ‘Das Experiment’, which is on the 1971 Stanford prison experiments. This remake is too ‘Hollywood’; it completely ignores the role of scientists in the experiment, but shows us fights and action instead. The elimination of science from the movie makes it unusable as material for discussion research integrity.

    Das Experiment (2001)

    IMDB: For two weeks, 20 male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards in a prison. The “prisoners” have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the “guards” are told to retain order without using physical violence.
    REJECTED: Although this film provides some interesting insights into the field of research ethics, it is not so much concerned with research integrity. The way the experiment is set-up leaves more room for discussion then how the researchers treat the subjects or their research protocol. I believe that the combination the problems mentioned above and the language barrier make it unfit for use in a classroom.

    Experimenter (2015)

    IMDB: In 1961, famed social psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of radical behaviour experiments that tested ordinary human’s willingness to obey authority.
    REJECTED: This film displays the dark side of people. It shows how they turn into monsters when told to and authorized to torture another human being. A great deal of ‘external’ research ethics related questions could be accompanied by this film, but it fails to give relevant insight in topics related to research ethics.

    Primer (2004)

    IMDB: Four friends/fledgling entrepreneurs, knowing that there’s something bigger and more innovative than the different error-checking devices they’ve built, wrestle over their new invention.
    REJECTED: This movie shows a process of experimentation with a machine that is too far from how science usually works that it becomes unusable for educational purposes. Furthermore, this film is too difficult and messy to follow to show in a classroom.

    Hysteria (2011)

    IMDB: A motivated and modern doctor, dr. Mortimer Granville gets fired from every hospital he works in due to his ‘controversial’ methods and believes in Germ Theory. He ends up getting a job at dr. Dalrymple’s office, which relieves female patients of their ‘hysteria’ with a ‘pelvic massage’ leading to orgasm. He falls in love with the Dalrymple’s daughter Emily and the perfect live seems in sight. Then enters Charlotte, the other daughter of doctor Dalrymple…
    REJECTED: Although this is a very amusing film on sexuality and man-woman relationships in the British Empire of the 1880’s it is not so much a film on medical research, in fact in may be seen as a film that lacks it almost deliberately. This lack of research is actually the most interesting element of the film. The ease with which the term ‘hysteria’ is used and treated without any proper medical research or discussion is most daunting. When the term is then taken to court to explain the behaviour of women is also striking. ‘Hysteria’ is actually a medicalization of the social difficulties that women faced in those days. This is therefore more a film on femininity and social inequalities between sexes than a film on medical research or medicine.
    Furthermore, the contrast between the normality of the practise on ‘hysteria relief’ and the controversy surrounding sexuality and man and women relationships is another interesting element of this film.

    House – Blowing the whistle (2012)

    IMDB: This episode of House tells a story about colleagues of House blowing the whistle on him for neglecting and denying his own health problems.
    REJECTED: Although the episode does discuss the research integrity topic of whistleblowing, it is too overdramatized to be useful in education on research integrity. And even though the title assumes something different, the episode is more on other topics than whistleblowing, like the intrigues amongst medical colleagues. Furthermore, the episodes do not show the problems one normally faces when blowing the whistle on someone, for no one is really harmed.

    Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

    IMDB: On the creation of a human being, the researchers strive for eternal scientific glory.
    REJECTED: Although the topic of the production and cloning of a human being is more urgent than ever, the movie is too old. Although an old movie isn’t necessary a bad movie, but because the focus in this research is on education on research integrity it is to be able to achieve an educational goal it is important that a movie is ideally closely connected to the current state of affairs in research. Because this movie falls short in this regard, causes it is boring to look at. For this reason, there is no use for this movie in our project. The movie could be used for different education purposes then sessions on research integrity though. For example: the movie shows a researcher in an (because of the just mentioned limitation of the movie) almost humoristic way. The movie could be used to deliberate on this in class and could be accompanied with questions like ‘what it is to be a scientist?’ And ‘what are people’s opinion on scientists?

    The Constant Gardener (2005)

    IMDB: A widower is determined to get to the bottom of a potentially explosive secret involving his wife’s murder, big business and corporate corruption.
    REJECTED: This film deals with important and interesting medical ethical issues – such as conducting medical experiments in Third World country’s – but it does so in a very subtle way. I could not find explicit fragments for educational purposes; in order to understand the importance of an isolated scene, you would have to watch the whole film.

    The Imitation Game (2014)

    IMDB: During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing tries to crack the enigma code with help of fellow mathematicians.
    REJECTED: Even though the protagonist of this film is a brilliant and influential scientist, the story line of The Imitation Game has little to do with research integrity. The choices Turing has to make and the challenges he is confronted with are more related to general ethics (Deontology vs. Utilitarianism for example).

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  • Using the Fiction Movie Analysis tool

    For the analyses of the fiction movies, a tool (format) was developed that helps to structure the analysis. The goal of the analysis tool is to allow the user of the educational material to be properly introduced into the Content & Context (1), relevant ethical backgrounds; Ethics (2) of the audio-visual material, the realism (3) of the fragment/film and the Suggested use for education (4) for optimal use. Furthermore, we want to provide the user of the analysis with the ending (5) of the film, in order to acquaint him/her with the ‘solution’ of the writer to the ethical problem of the fragment or film.

    Directions for use

    1. Content and context

    The aim the first section, Content & Context, is to introduce the fragment in a way that the user can assess the fragment for relevance without the necessity of having to watch the full film first. The relevant characters will usually be introduced, as well as the setting of the film and all events relevant to the fragment(s) that will be analysed and proposed as educational material.

    Provide relevant details that are needed to provide an adequate introduction to the fragment, provided it could thereafter be viewed without watching the full movie.
    Provide an introduction of the fragment; therein providing information on the main storyline and the characters that partake in the fragment with their motives and characteristics.

    2. Ethics

    The second section is on Ethics and deals with the moral problem that underlies the discussed fragment. Its aim is to provide a balanced view of both sides of the ethical problem. You could add references to background information on the ethical problem of point-of-view that you discuss.

    Explain what the moral dilemma is and how this is related to research integrity and ethics of research. Provide a balanced view on both sides of the dilemma and provide a view relevant questions to accompany the fragment.

    3. Realism

    We have added a third section that deals with how realistic the fragment is; this section is called Realism. This is relevant when using fiction as because fiction may have the tendency to exaggerate a certain characteristic or fault in one’s acts in a way that is worth mentioning when presenting the fragment for educational purposes.
    Provide an answer to these questions:

    • How realistic is this fragment and how well does it relate to everyday scientific practise?
    • Which aspect of the Research Integrity topic does this fragment highlight?
    • In order to make the material accessible in a user-friendly way we have added a section on Suggested use for education that covers the relevance for the topic for education.

    4. Suggested use for education

    Introduce, in a motivated manner, the topics that the analysed film may be relevant to.
    Include discussion questions or other suggestions for education that may accompany the fragment and highlight the relevance of the fragment to certain aspects of medical ethics, research ethics of research integrity (or any other topic that you are

    5. The ending of the film

    The ending we have added to complete the context in which the fragment is embedded and furthermore it provides the aftermath of the ethical problem posed in the fragment. The maker of the film/writer of the script has added the ethical problem for a reason and usually ‘solves’ the problem in a certain matter. Although the way the maker of the film ‘solves’ the problem is not necessarily the ‘right’ way, it may be worth mentioning to your audience and may start an interesting discussion in class.

    Provide the ending of the movie and, if applicable, explain how this relates to the dilemma discussed in the fragment.

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  • Sharing content on an educational website

    How to share audio-visual material on my website for educational purposes?

    This document deals with the basic legal aspects of using audio-visual material on a website for educational purposes. It is divided into three sections; the first part provides the necessary background information that is relevant for the topic of working with audio-visual material for educational purposes on your website. The second and third sections of this document deal with what you can and cannot do.

    For more information or certainty on the matters discussed in this document I advise you to seek professional legal advice. Furthermore, I urge you to consult with the organisation you work for in order to stay in line with their policies on copyright and authorship.

    1. Legal backgrounds of using audio-visual material for educational purposes

    Linking to audio-visual material on my website: copyrights*

    There are two legal concepts that are important when discussing the use of audio-visual material in an educational purpose: copyright and your audience. A third important aspect is the educational context in which you wish to share the material.

    The concept of copyright is in principle a rather simple one: you need permission from the owner of the rights to reproduce material, usually the person/company who produced, before you are allowed to make the material public*. Making material public in legal terms means making the material available to a new audience. The word ‘new’ is important here; in principle, the rule is that if you put a link on a website that links to another website that has the actual audio-visual content on it, you are making the material public ‘again’ to a new audience and therefore you need permission from the owner of the material to do so. There is an exception to that rule though: if the material is publicly available, meaning without a pay wall, login, member area etc. You are allowed to share this with a ‘new’ audience, as this audience is legally speaking not ‘new’; the material was already publicly available to them.

    Embedding and framing is also allowed. This means that capturing material on your website in the form of embedding of framing, without actually putting it on your website is legally speaking not copying. You are not legally responsible for the content either: this means that you are in theory even allowed to embed or frame material that is illegally made public on another site*.

    2. What is allowed on my website?

    You are allowed to link to or other publicly available sources of audio-visual material, as this material has been made public without the restrictions of a pay wall, login or membership for example and is therefore freely available online.

    You are also allowed to embed or frame this material on your website. Important here is that the material remains on the website it was originally posted. This may even be material that was originally made public illegally.

    3. What is not allowed on my website?

    Any form of copying material and then making it public again is not allowed. Therefore, you are not allowed to download material and then upload it to your own site, neither are you allowed to take a photo or make a video of material and post that on your website. This is all true for material that you do not own the copyrights of.


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  • Using audio-visual material in the classroom: a practical guide

    The NRIN website offers a range of audio-visual material that is encouraged to be used in the classroom. With offering this content comes the responsibility of making sure the user knows how best to use that content. The question that needs to be answered is: ‘When using audio-visual content, what may and what may I not share with my students?’

    The rules and regulations of sharing audio-visual material in the classroom will be discussed in this document. It is designed to be a practical guide and therefore not a legal guideline in the strict sense of the word. The legal aspects that are relevant to this guide will hopefully be properly introduced and explained. I will work my way down from the audio-visual sources that have clear guidelines, like DVD’s and sites like Netflix, HBO etc. to the more vaguely defined guidelines on audio-visual sources like online streaming or downloading. Be aware though; all guidelines in this document only apply to the use of audio-visual information for educational purposes.

    1. Citation and its purpose: education

    The most important conclusion of the Dutch law on authorship states that it is illegal to make a copy of work that holds authorship rights. There are exceptions on this law, for our purposes the most important of which is the law on citation, or rather the citation exception*.

    The citation law

    You are allowed to use or ‘cite’ parts of film material for a discussion or a critical appraisal of or on that work (such as IMDb). That means that when discussing a subject, that discussion may accompany a piece of audio-visual information on that subject, so long as it is not used merely as ‘decoration’, but rather serves a relevant goal in the presentation. It is important when citing audio-visual information in your presentation to hold two things in mind: (1) you must provide a reference to the original material including the name of author and (2) you are only allowed to cite material that is already made public by the author of that work. If you ‘cite’ work that has not been released yet you are stealing intellectual property and perhaps even more important; you are robbing the author of that work of the choice whether or not to publish it.

    IMDb is an internet based database of films that contains summaries, trailers, photo’s, professional movie critiques and other information on films. One of its most appealing characteristics is a poll-based audience-driven movie rating system, which is usually, though not exclusively, taken as a standard for how good a film is.

    One of the most important aspects in what is or is not allowed when citing audio-visual information is the purpose that is served by sharing that information*. The hard demand on being allowed to use audio-visual information is that the sharing of the audio-visual information must be justified by its purpose. As education is deemed an important purpose, the guidelines on sharing audio-visual information for the purpose of education are somewhat less strict then on, for example, sharing audio-visual on Sting when discussing the band The Police (of which Sting was a member) on a blog page. You, being an educator, are therefore allowed to use longer video clips then normally allowed when citing audio-visual information*. The easiest example of how the citation law works in the classroom is when examining the use of DVD’s. I will therefore discuss using DVD’s in the classroom first, after which I will discuss legal downloading and streaming in section 2 and illegal downloading and streaming in section 3.

    Showing DVD’s in the classroom

    A DVD is purchased hardware that contains audio-visual information. By purchasing the hardware, you have paid your share to the author of the work and are therefore allowed to watch the audio-visual material in private*. The citation law and especially the exception made for education allow you to also use (part of) this audio-visual material in a session. Like said before, the session should be on a relevant subject and the use of the material should not be used as decoration, but must rather have a certain extra value for the presentation. A final criterion that is important when using audio-visual information in education is that the educational purpose must be non-profit. No commercial gain may be the outcome of the use of the audio-visual material. So long as the criteria are met, you are allowed to use DVD’s in the classroom.

    2. Legal downloads and Netflix

    Legal downloads

    Legal downloads are usually either found on sites with (1) pay walls or (2) open access sites. (1) Pay wall are websites that work with pay per view; you are only given access to the material if you pay. Pay wall sites are legally equal to the purchase of DVD’s; once you pay for the film or episode you have automatically paid your required contribution to the maker of the film and are therefore allowed to use the content just like a DVD. (2) Open access sites usually contain content that is put on the site by the maker of the material or the production company that put it on there. If you decide to use this material it is important to post a reference to the site where you got the material, besides referring the name of the author. If you obtained your copy in a legal way (see section 3 for rules on legality) you are allowed to share it like you are allowed to share a DVD.

    Netflix and legal streaming

    Streaming is legally the same as downloading. When streaming from a site on your computer you are actually making temporary copies (buffering) on your computer and the law says makes no distinction between a permanent or temporary copy*. So, if the duration of existence of a copy has no legal consequences, we can treat these temporary copies the same as hardcopies like a DVD or virtual copies like a download from a legal source. In the case of Netflix: so long as the stream was done from a paid Netflix account, the same rules apply. I would like to add here that before streaming a video you should probably consult with your IT department, as streaming a video uses a lot of bandwidth, which is something most networks at schools, colleges and universities do not allow their users to do.

    3. Downloading and streaming from illegal sources

    Downloading and streaming from illegal sources is not allowed, as it breaks the law on copyright; you are making a copy of material that is not lawfully obtained*. The author of the work you are streaming or downloading has not been reasonably paid, even though you are watching his/her material. If the material is illegally obtained by the source that put it on a website it is illegal for you to view or download this content*. This is also true for peer-to-peer (p2p) services. P2p service does not share a full video, but rather share bits of the video with different persons, who in their turn share their received bits with others in the network. This network based sharing creates a full copy on everyone’s computer, without the source having shared the full video himself. The problem here lies in the fact that a small fraction of a video is also legally seen as a copy and sharing that copy with others is illegal4. In order to check whether a site has obtained their copy legally or not it is helpful to check the about us page or the terms of service* of the website*. Here they should list how they have obtained their films. These films should be either public domain, which is like the videos discussed in section 2 on legal downloads or streaming, or shared with these sites by film studios. If it is not listed on their site from what source their material comes from, it is probable that the material is illegally obtained and that it is therefore illegal for you to watch that content.

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  • Acknowledgements

    Prof. dr. Lex Bouter & Dr. Fenneke Blom

    We would like to thank prof. dr. Lex Bouter and dr. Fenneke Blom of the Netherlands Research Integrity Network for their continuing support and trust in this project. Our efforts and energy levels have not been constant and our group dynamics were sometimes absent, and sometimes defiantly turbulent. Despite the part time effort, I hope we have completed this project to their satisfaction.

    Prof. dr. Hub Zwart

    We would also like to thank prof. dr. Hub Zwart of the Radboud University Nijmegen for receiving us and enlightening us on his view of using ‘genres of the imagination’ (books and movies) in education. His philosophical views on this were inspiring and helped us refining our tool for analysing films.

    Prof. dr. Inez de Beaufort

    Special thanks go out to prof. dr. Inez de Beaufort of Erasmus University Rotterdam for letting us use her personal movie database with films on ethics, medical ethics and research ethics. The films received from her form the backbone of our analysed films. Furthermore, her views on using audio-visual material were insightful and contributed to the clarity of some of our analysed films.

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NRIN devotes a great deal of attention to the website’s content and would greatly appreciate your suggestions of documents or links you believe to belong on this website.

This selection is an incomplete convenience sample, and does not reflect NRIN’s vision or opinion. Including an item does not necessarily mean that we agree with the authors nor does it imply we think unmentioned items are of poorer quality.

Please report any suggestions, inaccuracies or nonfunctioning hyperlinks etc. that you discover. Thanks in advance!