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

  • MUST READ: Fostering Integrity in Research, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Fostering Integrity in Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/21896. See the overview of National Academies Releases Sweeping Review of Research Misconduct and Detrimental Practices from the American Institute of Physics.
  • Singapore Statement on Research Integrity--
  • 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 influence. 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

Training in Responsible Conduct of Research

Responsible Conduct of Research Key Topics That Need to be Addressed

False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often long endure; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, as every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness; and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened. --Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, 1871, Volume 2, Chapter XXI, p. 385.

 

Scientific Research and Trust

Trust is a foundation for all Science. "The scientific enterprise is built on a foundation of trust. Society trusts that scientific research results are an honest and accurate reflection of a researcher's work. Researchers equally trust that their colleagues have gathered data carefully, have used appropriate analytic and statistical techniques, have reported their results accurately, and have treated the work of other researchers with respect." On Being a Scientist, National Academy of Sciences, 3rd Edition. Trust enables relationships between or among people, facilitates cooperative interactions, mitigates risk taking (expectation that skills are used with sound judgment), is ascrtbed to individuals with special skills, knowledge or earned status (e.g., medical doctors, members of a certified professional group), is related to an expectation of trustworthiness, competence, experience and good will, and commonly generates ethical and legal obligations and expectations (see: Resnik, D.B., 2011. Scientific research and the public trust. Science and engineering ethics, 17(3), pp.399-409. doi: 10.1007/s11948-010-9210-x).

The results of scientific work have increasing potential impacts on society, and this can raise concerns of trust that scientists do not consider human (or environmental impacts which can lead to decreased funding and possible regulation. Concerns of scientific negligence in this regard can significantly impact the progress of science.

Social Responsibilities of Scientists

AAAS, Resources for Research Ethics Education believes that, if the U.S. is to respond effectively to the challenges of the 21 st century, we must find ways to reorganize our science and technology enterprise to

  • address tomorrow's needs and aspirations:
  • maintaining global sustainability,
  • improving human health,
  • addressing economic disparities,
  • understanding our place in the universe,
  • promoting peace and security, and
  • directing the products of technology toward the betterment of society, nationally and worldwide

The AAAS report (March 2015), A Preliminary Inquiry Into the Perspectives of Scientists, Engineers and Health Professionals, shows a remarkable convergence in scientists' affirmation of the social responsibility among the STEM disciplines, as can be seen from the following table:

AAAS 2015 Social Responibility.jpeg
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Provenance: A Preliminary Inquiry into the Perspectives of Scientists, Engineers and Health Professionals, AAAS, March 2015
Reuse: This item is offered under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ You may reuse this item for non-commercial purposes as long as you provide attribution and offer any derivative works under a similar license.

Research Misconduct and Fraud

The issue of Scientific Misconduct was addressed initially in NAS-NAE-IOM (National Academy of Sciences-National Academy of Engineering-Institute of Medicine). 1992. Responsible Science: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, and has been further elaborated in: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2017, Fostering Integrity in Research. National Academies Press.

Plagiarism, Falsification, Fabrication of Data

These are the "big 3" of scientific misconduct. "The most serious violations of standards have come to be known as "scientific misconduct." The U.S. government defines misconduct as "fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism (FFP) in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results." All research institutions that receive federal funds must have policies and procedures in place to investigate and report research misconduct, and anyone who is aware of a potential act of misconduct must follow these policies and procedures" On Being A Scientist- A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press (page 3).

  • "Fabrication is "making up data or results."
  • Falsification is "manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record."
  • Plagiarism is "the appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit."

"A crucial distinction between falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism (sometimes called FFP) and error or negligence is the intent to deceive. When researchers intentionally deceive their colleagues by falsifying information, fabricating research results, or using others' words and ideas without giving credit, they are violating fundamental research standards and basic societal values" (ibid, p. 17).

The Treatment of Data and Data Management

  • On Being A Scientist--Treatment of Data, A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press (pages 8-11)
  • Data Management--Resources for Research Ethics Education, UC San Diego
  • Pain, E. Your Data, Warts and All; Science 2013; doi: 10.1126/science.caredit.a1300211
  • Case of Manipulating Data; Moving Ahead--from the American Chemical Society
  • Do you expect me to just give away my data?--Brewer, P. (2017), "Do you expect me to just give away my data?", Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO081175. Published on 14 September 2017. "The Editor-in-Chief of JGR: Oceans explains why the new AGU data policy is important for the rigor and long-term security of scientific research."

Mistakes and Negligence,

  • On Being A Scientist --Mistakes and Negligence, A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research, 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press (pages 12-14)

Responding to Suspected Violations of Professional Standards

  • On Being A Scientist --Responding to Suspected Violations of Professional Standards, 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
  • Role Play Scenario: Whistleblowing--see the video and study guide from Ethics Core Digital Library.

Laboratory Safety

Sharing of Research Results

  • On Being A Scientist--Sharing Research Results, A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press (pages 29-34)
  • Collaboration--see the case study video from Ethics Core. Part of a series of videos on Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) produced by the Office of Research, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Authorship and the Allocation of Credit

Peer Review

Responsibilities of Editors

Publication

Collaboration

  • Collaboration--Resources for Research Ethics Education, UC San Diego

Conflicts of Interest

Intellectual Property

  • On Being A Scientist--Intellectual Property, 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 --Competing Interests, Commitments, and Values, A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press (pages 43-47)

Reproducible Science

The National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine (2019), Reproducibility and replicability in science, National Academies Press, has recognized the importance of reproducible and replicable methods and outcomes as a growing concern in scientific research. This report recommends: "All researchers should include a clear, specific, and complete description of how the reported results were reached. Reports should include details appropriate for the type of research, such as a clear description of all methods, instruments, materials, procedures, measurements, and other variables involved in the study; a clear description of the analysis of data and decisions for exclusion of some data or inclusion of other; and discussion of the uncertainty of the measurements, results, and inferences...Researchers should take care to estimate and explain the uncertainty inherent in their results, to make proper use of statistical methods, and to describe their methods and data in a clear, accurate, and complete way".

Scientific procedures and outcomes must be repeatable, replicable and reproducible; documentation must be provided that would enable independent researchers to arrive at the same conclusions; Plesser (2018 ), Reproducibility vs. replicability: a brief history of a confused terminology: Frontiers in neuroinformatics, v. 11, p. 76, distinguishes:

  • Repeatability (Same team, same experimental setup): The measurement can be obtained with stated precision by the same team using the same measurement procedure, the same measuring system, under the same operating conditions, in the same location on multiple trials.
  • Replicability (Different team, same experimental setup): The measurement can be obtained with stated precision by a different team using the same measurement procedure, the same measuring system, under the same operating conditions, in the same or a different location on multiple trials.
  • Reproducibility (Different team, different experimental setup): The measurement can be obtained with stated precision by a different team, a different measuring system, in a different location on multiple trials.

Additional insights about reproducible science that may be useful:

  • Paving the Way to More Reliable Research--Stephanie Wykstra explores issues related to lack of reproducible Science and possible remedies. From Inside Higher Education, July 10 , 2017.
  • Why Most Published Research Findings Are False--John Pl Ioannidis, PLOS Medicine, posted August 30, 2005, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.00201,
  • Baker (2016)  1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility. Nature News, 533 (7604), p.452, posted 25 May 2016, reports on a survey of 1500 scientists who have identified numerous factors that contribute to irreproducible research:  Selective reporting, low statistical power or poor analysis, insufficient oversight/mentoring, methods or code are unavailable, and poor experimental design.

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.

Political Influence on the Conduct of Science

  • 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."
  • A recent troubling incident: Trump transition team for Energy Department seeks names of employees involved in climate meetings--article by Steven Mufson and Juliet Eliperin, published December 9, 2016 in the Washington Post.
  • Communication Chill--Andrew Kreighbaum, from Inside Higher Education, posted January 25, 2017; "As EPA freezes grants, agencies issue internal guidance to employees on outside communications, stirring fears of political interference in science."
  • Freedom to Bully,How Laws Intended to Free Information are Used to Harass Researchers--Michael Halpern, February 2015, Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for Science and Democracy. "Open records laws are increasingly being used as a weapon against researchers whose work threatens private interests"
  • New Energy Dept. guidelines: Changing culture or political ploy?--Ellen Powell, January 12, 2017, Christian Science Monitor; "Scientists can now speak freely to the media and publish in scientific journals. The guidelines may set the course for the upcoming confirmation hearing for Energy Secretary â€" and the department's next four years." Access the U.S. Dept. of Energy Scientific Integrity Policy "This document sets forth a policy intended to 1) ensure a culture of scientific integrity; (2) strengthen the actual and perceived credibility of the Federal Government and Federal Government-sponsored research; (3) facilitate the free flow of scientific and technical information consistent with privacy and classification standards and applicable laws, regulations, and DOE Orders and Policies; and (4) establish principles for conveying scientific and technological information to the public."
  • Following Reports of Interference, GAO to Study Scientific Integrity at Federal Agencies--from American Institute of Physics, posted October 27, 2017. "The Government Accountability Office has agreed to evaluate the state of scientific integrity at federal agencies at the request of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who says he is concerned about reports of political interference in scientific work."
  • Perspectives of Scientists Who Become Targets: Katharine Hayhoe--Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, posted August 10, 2017.

Responsible Conduct of Education Research: 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:

  • To each person an equal share.
  • To each person according to individual need.
  • To each person according to individual effort.
  • To each person according to societal contribution.
  • 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."

Are There, or Should There Be, Limits to Geoscience Research?

The medical professions decided long ago that there must be limits to medical research on human subjects, and researchers must adhere to strict guidelines (see the Belmont Forum Report; the topic of bio- and medical ethics is beyond the scope of this project, but there are important lessons learned from related disciplines). Given that Earth exhibits complex system behavior, do geoscientists have permissions (explicit or tacit), authority, or consent to do unbridled research, particularly in areas that may produce unforeseen consequences (e.g. geoengineering to mitigate climate change; attempts to control earthquakes)? On a local scale, is it appropriate and permissable for geoscientists to sample and analyze for environmental hazards in communities? What are the consequences to the people living in the potentially impacted areas? What you don't know may indeed hurt you, but in some cases the remedy may be more harmful than the original situation. There are no clear answers here, but this is something to think about. As Hamm says to Clov in Samuel Beckett's End Game: "I love the old questions. (with fervor) Ah the old questions, the old answers, there's nothing like them." Or from Adlai Stevenson: "Nature is neutral. Man has wrested from nature the power to make the world a desert or make the deserts bloom. There is no evil in the atom; only in men's souls." Who decides when or if geoscience research goes "out of bounds"? Do we need an equivalent IRB for the geosciences equivalent to that required of human or animal subjects? Are there instances where knowing the results of research could actually cause harm?

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