Integrity in research

Research integrity may be defined as active adherence to the ethical principles and professional standards essential for the responsible practice of research.

By active adherence we mean adoption of the principles and practices as a personal credo, not simply accepting them as impositions by rule makers.

By ethical principles we mean honesty, the golden rule, trustworthiness, and high regard for the scientific record.

NAS report definition: “For individuals research integrity is an aspect of moral character and experience. It involves above all a commitment to intellectual honesty and personal responsibility for ones actions and to a range of practices that characterize responsible research conduct.” These practices include:

  1. Honesty and fairness in proposing, performing, and reporting research;
  2. Accuracy and fairness in representing contributions to research proposals and reports;
  3. Proficiency and fairness in peer review;
  4. Collegiality in scientific interactions, communications and sharing of resources;
  5. Disclosure of conflicts of interest;
  6. Protection of human subjects in the conduct of research;
  7. Humane care of animals in the conduct of research;
  8. Adherence to the mutual responsibilities of mentors and trainees.”

While science encourages (no, requires) vigorous defense of one’s ideas and work, ultimately research integrity means examining the data with objectivity and being guided by the results rather than by preconceived notions.

We will return to the importance of preserving the integrity of the scientific record in the section on misconduct.

Research that involves human subjects or participants raises unique and complex ethical, legal, social and political issues. Research ethics is specifically interested in the analysis of ethical issues that are raised when people are involved as participants in research. There are three objectives in research ethics. The first and broadest objective is to protect human participants. The second objective is to ensure that research is conducted in a way that serves interests of individuals, groups and/or society as a whole. Finally, the third objective is to examine specific research activities and projects for their ethical soundness, looking at issues such as the management of risk, protection of confidentiality and the process of informed consent.

For the most part, research ethics has traditionally focused on issues in biomedical research. The application of research ethics to examine and evaluate biomedical research has been well developed over the last century and has influenced much of the existing statutes and guidelines for the ethical conduct of research. However in humanities and social science research, different kinds of ethical issues arise. New and emerging methods of conducting research, such as auto-ethnography and participatory action research raise important but markedly different ethical issues and obligations for researchers.

Research involving vulnerable persons, which may include children, persons with developmental or cognitive disabilities, persons who are institutionalized, the homeless or those without legal status, also raises unique issues in any research context.

Research ethicists everywhere today are challenged by issues that reflect global concerns in other domains, such as the conduct of research in developing countries, the limits of research involving genetic material and the protection of privacy in light of advances in technology and Internet capabilities.

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