GeoEthics > GeoEthics and Profession > RCR Responsible Conduct of Research

Responsible Conduct of Research

David Mogk, Montana State University

Much of the ethics training in the STEM disciplines is focused on the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). This training is now a requirement for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows supported by research grants from the National Science Foundation. The following is a collection of resources that support training in RCR.

General Resources that Inform Responsible Conduct of Research

  • Singapore Statement on Research Integrity
    "

    The principles and responsibilities set out in the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity represent the first international effort to encourage the development of unified policies, guidelines and codes of conduct, with the long-range goal of fostering greater integrity in research worldwide.

    The Statement is the product of the collective effort and insights of the 340 individuals from 51 countries who participated in the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity. These included researchers, funders, representatives of research institutions (universities and research institutes) and research publishers. The Statement was developed by a small drafting committee (listed below); discussed and commented upon before, during and after the 2nd World Conference; and then finalized for release and global use on 22 September 2010."
  • USDA Scientific Integrity Policy Handbook – July 2013 and updated March 8, 2016. "USDA is committed to a culture of scientific integrity.. Science, and public trust in science, thrives in an environment that shields scientific data and analyses and their use in policy making from political interference or inappropriate influcuence. Scientific and technical findings should not be suppressed or altered for political purposes."
  • Integrity of Scientific and Scholarly Activities–United States Department of the Interior

Responsible Conduct of Research Key Topics That Need to be Addressed

  • Responsible Conduct of Research modules from Ethics Core–a series of interactive tutorials available at no cost to groups affiliated with educational or other non-profit institutions.
  • The Treatment of Data and Data Management
  • Mistakes and Negligence
    • On Being A Scientist –A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press (pages 12-14)
  • Research Misconduct
  • Responding to Suspected Violations of Professional Standards, Whistle Blowing
    • On Being A Scientist –A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press (pages 19-23)
    • Whistle Blowing–Resources for Research Ethics Education, UC San Diego
  • Laboratory Safety in Research
    • On Being A Scientist (page 28)–A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press
  • Sharing Research Results
    • On Being A Scientist–A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press (pages 29-34)
  • Authorship and Allocation of Credit
    • On Being A Scientist–A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press (pages 35-38)
    • Authorship–Resources for Research Ethics Education, UC San Diego
    • "Responsible Authorship" , Online Ethics Center for Engineering 8/17/2006 National Academy of Engineering Accessed: Monday, June 09, 2014
  • Peer Review
    • Peer Review–Resources for Research Ethics Education, UC San Diego
  • Publication
  • Collaboration
    • Collaboration–Resources for Research Ethics Education, UC San Diego
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Intellectual Property
    • On Being A Scientist–A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press (pages 39-42)
  • Competing Interests, Commitments and Values
    • On Being A Scientist –A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press (pages 43-47)
  • Responsibilities of Editors
  • Reproducible Science
  • Intrinsic Ethics
    • Intrinsic Ethics Regarding integrated assessment models for climate management – Schienke, EW, Baum, SD, Tuana, N., Davis KJ, and Keller, K., Sci Eng Ethics. 2011 Sep;17(3):503-23. doi: 10.1007/s11948-010-9209-3. Epub 2010 Jun 8.
      In this essay we develop and argue for the adoption of a more comprehensive model of research ethics than is included within current conceptions of responsible conduct of research (RCR). We argue that our model, which we label the ethical dimensions of scientific research (EDSR), is a more comprehensive approach to encouraging ethically responsible scientific research compared to the currently typically adopted approach in RCR training. This essay focuses on developing a pedagogical approach that enables scientists to better understand and appreciate one important component of this model, what we call intrinsic ethics. Intrinsic ethical issues arise when values and ethical assumptions are embedded within scientific findings and analytical methods. Through a close examination of a case study and its application in teaching, namely, evaluation of climate change integrated assessment models, this paper develops a method and case for including intrinsic ethics within research ethics training to provide scientists with a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of the critical role of values and ethical choices in the production of research outcomes.

Discipline-Based Education Research (DBER)

A two-year study by the NRC (2012) of Discipline-Based Education Research (DBER): Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering explored 1) the current status of DBER, 2) evidence-based contributions of DBER to STEM education and 3) future directions for collaborative discipline-based education research.There are three principle components of DBER:

  • The contours of DBER are emergent from the parent disciplines, reflecting deep disciplinary knowledge, skills, and ways of knowing that inform disciplinary research in a given field;
  • DBER investigates teaching and learning in a given discipline, which reflects the questions asked, approaches to problem solving, and representations to explain phenomena that are intrinsic to a given discipline; and
  • DBER is informed by complementary research on human learning and cognition.

Researchers in the geosciences are increasingly contributing to geoscience education research (see: overview of Bringing Research on Learning to the Geosciences. See an overview of Contributions and Opportunities for the Geosciences in their participation in DBER.

Researchers who are engaged in any research involving human subjects should be fully aware of the ethical guidelines that apply to this research. Be sure to check with your Institutional Review Board (IRB) to make sure you are in compliance with training and reporting requirements to conduct your research.

The Belmont Report

This report is the source of Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research. These include:

Respect for Persons

"Respect for persons incorporates at least two ethical convictions: first, that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents, and second, that persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection. The principle of respect for persons thus divides into two separate moral requirements: the requirement to acknowledge autonomy and the requirement to protect those with diminished autonomy." This states that the person must be capable of making an informed decision on whether or not to participate in a human subjects research project.

Key considerations: autonomy (ability to freely choose to participate), mental capacity, voluntariness, informed consent

  • "Informed consent will be sought from each prospective subject or the subject's legally authorized representative,
  • "Informed consent will be appropriately documented,
  • "When appropriate, there are adequate provisions to protect the privacy of subjects and to maintain the confidentiality of data."
  • "When some or all of the subjects are likely to be vulnerable to coercion or undue influence, such as children, prisoners, pregnant women, mentally disabled persons, or economically or educationally disadvantaged persons, additional safeguards have been included in the study to protect the rights and welfare of these subjects."

Beneficence

"Persons are treated in an ethical manner not only by respecting their decisions and protecting them from harm, but also by making efforts to secure their well-being." Such treatment falls under the principle of beneficence. The term "beneficence" is often understood to cover acts of kindness or charity that go beyond strict obligation. In this document, beneficence is understood in a stronger sense, as an obligation. Two general rules have been formulated as complementary expressions of beneficent actions in this sense: 1) Do not harm, and 2) maximize possible benefits and minimize possible harms.

  • "Risks to subjects are minimized: (i) By using procedures which are consistent with sound research design and which do not unnecessarily expose subjects to risk, and (ii) whenever appropriate, by using procedures already being performed on the subjects for diagnostic or treatment purposes."
  • "Risks to subjects are reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits, if any, to subjects, and the importance of the knowledge that may reasonably be expected to result. In evaluating risks and benefits, the IRB should consider only those risks and benefits that may result from the research (as distinguished from risks and benefits of therapies subjects would receive even if not participating in the research). The IRB should not consider possible long-range effects of applying knowledge gained in the research (for example, the possible effects of the research on public policy) as among those research risks that fall within the purview of its responsibility."
  • "When appropriate, the research plan makes adequate provision for monitoring the data collected to ensure the safety of subjects."
  • "When appropriate, there are adequate provisions to protect the privacy of subjects and to maintain the confidentiality of data."

Justice

"Who ought to receive the benefits of research and bear its burdens? This is a question of justice, in the sense of "fairness in distribution" or "what is deserved." An injustice occurs when some benefit to which a person is entitled is denied without good reason or when some burden is imposed unduly. Another way of considering the principle of justice is that equals ought to be treated equally. However, this statement requires explication. Who is equal and who is unequal? What considerations justify departure from equal distribution? Almost all commentators allow that distinctions based on experience, age, deprivation, competence, merit and position do sometimes constitute criteria justifying differential treatment for certain purposes. It is necessary, then, to explain in what aspects people should be treated equally. There are several widely accepted formulations of just ways to distribute burdens and benefits. Each formulation mentions some relevant property on the basis for which burdens and benefits should be distributed. These formulations are:

  1. To each person an equal share.
  2. To each person according to individual need.
  3. To each person according to individual effort.
  4. To each person according to societal contribution.
  5. And to each person according to merit.

"Selection of subjects is equitable. In making this assessment the IRB should take into account the purposes of the research and the setting in which the research will be conducted and should be particularly cognizant of the special problems of research involving vulnerable populations, such as children, prisoners, pregnant women, mentally disabled persons, or economically or educationally disadvantaged persons."

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