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 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

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.
  • 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

  • American Library Association (ALA) and Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)-- The Code of Ethics in the Field of Library and Information Science.

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 and Fraud

Responding to Suspected Violations of Professional Standards, Whistle Blowing

Laboratory Safety in Research

Sharing Research Results

  • On Being A Scientist--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 Allocation of Credit

Peer Review

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.

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 – 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

Beneficence

Justice

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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