Fostering Professionalism and Integrity in Research
Nicholas H. Stenek, Fostering Professionalism and Integrity in Research
Fostering Professionalism and Integrity in Research
Nicholas H. Stenek Ph.D.
NICHOLAS H. STENECK, PHD
While many professionals refer to themselves as researchers, they
usually do so in reference to a particular field of study that defines their
professional affiliation. They are physicists or sociologists or biologists who do
research, not researchers who happen to study physics, sociology or
biology. I am an historian who does research on the history of research and
research institutions, not a researcher who studies history. The goal of this
paper is to examine researchers as researchers, with particular attention to
their ideals for professional behavior, the extent to which they achieve these
ideals and methods for fostering the formation of an awareness of their
ethical obligations during professional education. Currently this is done on
a field-specific basis. I assert in this paper that we must do more to promote
a general sense of ethical awareness in research by embracing a general
code of ethics and developing best practices that apply across different
fields of study, institutions and national boundaries.
DEFINITIONS AND SCOPE
Research is widely recognized as an identifiable and important
function of society. In 2009, the United States will spend approximately 4.7
percent of its $3.1 trillion budget on research and development divided
about equally between the military and non-military sectors.1 Private
industry will spend similar amounts.2 The public and private funds spent on
research support a large research establishment, which is made up of research
agencies (e.g., the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes
of Health), research institutions (universities, corporate and government
* Symposium on the Formation of an Ethical Professional Identity during Professional
Education, Feb. 2, 2008.
1. Press Release, Am. Ass’n for the Advancement of Sci., 2009 Budget Proposes Physical
Sciences and Development Increases, Flat Funding for Biomedical Research (Feb. 7, 2008),
available at www.aaas.org/spp/rd/prel09p.pdf.
2. NAT’L SCI. FOUND., DIV. OF SCI. RESEARCH STATISTICS, SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING
INDICATORS 2006 (2006), available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/pdfstart.htm.
laboratories), research publications, research libraries and many other
ancillary organizations.3 Even if it is difficult to define precisely the
characteristics that distinguish an activity as research, politicians, educators, policy
makers, journalists and others have no problem talking about, funding and
making decisions relating to research.
This paper is concerned with the individuals who conduct research,
that is, with researchers. As with research, researchers are recognized as an
identifiable and important segment of society. They gain public attention
when they make discoveries. Society relies on their advice when making a
wide range of decisions, from setting standards to protect public health and
safety to grappling with issues such as climate change or the consequences
of finite energy supplies. Society designs education programs to train
researchers and worries when it is not training enough of them. Most major
universities expect their faculty to be researchers, and some faculty (e.g.,
research faculty and professional researchers) are hired primarily to conduct
research. Even if it is difficult to define precisely the characteristics that
distinguish a person as a researcher, in general there exists a widespread
understanding of the meaning of the term used to describe this category of
There is, of course, a great deal of variation within the general
category of researcher. A grade-schooler who collects information for a
research paper is, to some extent, a researcher. The same is true for
individuals who research their family history. These untrained or amateur
researchers are not the focus of this paper; instead, I am interested in
individuals who have been specially trained to do research, usually through
graduate or professional education. I am also interested in this group of
individuals in their research capacity and not more generally as academics
or scholars.4 The major challenge posed by the conference at which this
paper was first presented is how we can get professionals—professional
researchers in our case—to recognize and act on a mature understanding of
ethical professional identity, which in practical terms comes down to acting
on a sense of right or proper professional behavior.
Of necessity, most of the evidence cited in this paper derives from
discussions of science rather than research. This is due primarily to the fact
that scientific research is, by most measures, the dominant component of
research, particularly if the social sciences are included.5 Science and
re3. See id. for a comprehensive overview and analysis of this establishment.
4. I have avoided using the term “scholar” in this paper to further emphasize the fact that I
am interested in this group of professionals only in relation to their research activities and not
other activities. For a recent work that discusses professional identity in the larger context of
scholarship and doctoral training, see GEORGE E. WALKER, ET AL., THE FORMATION OF SCHOLARS:
RETHINKING DOCTORAL EDUCATION FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY (2008).
5. The National Endowment for the Humanities requested $144 million in funding for fiscal
year 2009, a figure that is 0.1 percent of the total Federal Research & Development budget. Press
Release, Nat’l Endowment for the Humanities, NEH Budget Secures Support for High Quality
search are commonly used interchangeably as if they were one and the
same,6 which they are not. Engineers, humanists, creative artists and others
do research and should not be left out of discussions of professional ethical
awareness in research. The fact remains, however, that thinking about
science drives discussions of research and therefore cannot be ignored.
Moreover, I would argue, but cannot do so in this paper, that the fundamental
principles underlying scientific research and shaping its ethic are applicable
to all research, whatever the field.
The way researchers should behave is clearly set out in institutional
research policies and the codes of ethics of professional societies. These
policies and codes set high standards for behavior and leave little room for
improper or unprofessional behavior. The most demanding policies strive to
achieve the highest levels of integrity. For example, in 1990, the University
of California issued a policy that confirmed its longstanding commitment
“to encourage and maintain the highest ethical standards in research.”7
More generally, research institutions and funding agencies are committed to
fostering reliability, truth, accuracy, honesty and similar standards in their
research programs. The central message in these policies is not difficult to
interpret: dishonesty and deception have no place in research. As
summarized by one researcher over forty years ago: “[T]he principle of ‘scientific
honesty’ and the complete realization that this is the very essence of
The central role that truth and honesty play in scientific research and
the values on which they rest were explained in detail a half-century ago by
sociologist Robert Merton. His research identified four
norms—communalism, universalism, disinterestedness and organized skepticism—that are
basic to professionalism in science.9 These norms, which have been generally
accepted as applying to all serious academic researchers, assured scientists,
researchers more generally and presumably the public, that the search for
truth will win out over all other interests in research. Merton’s four norms
further provide clarification as to how researchers should behave.
Researchers should share information with colleagues, seek common understanding,
Humanities Programs, Agency requests $144.335 million for FY 2009 (Feb. 4, 2008), available at
6. See, e.g., NAT’L ACAD. OF SCI., COMM. ON SCI., ENG’G, AND PUB. POLICY, ON BEING A
SCIENTIST: RESPONSIBLE CONDUCT IN RESEARCH (1995), available at http://www.nap.edu/html.
7. Letter from David Pierpont Gardner, President, Univ. of Cal., to Univ. of Cal. Staff,
University Policy on Integrity in Research (June 19, 1990), available at http://www.ucop.edu/
8. F. R. Fosberg, Code of Ethics, 142 SCI. 916, 916 (1963).
9. See generally ROBERT K. MERTON, THE SOCIOLOGY OF SCIENCE (1973).
eschew personal gain and question every new finding or claim to assure that
it is true.10
Finally, as professionals, researchers have a responsibility to report
others who do not meet professional expectations. As with other
professions, this responsibility stems from the privilege of self regulation. This
privilege was eagerly sought by the chief architect of U.S. science policy,
Vannevar Bush, at the end of World War II. In the document that
established the foundation of U.S. science policy, Science the Endless Frontier,
Bush argued that science would advance fastest and best serve the public if
it were allowed to direct its own affairs.11 Others felt that an activity that
was so important should have public oversight, but, in the years following
World War II, Bush’s self-regulation model won out.12 With this model
came the professional responsibility placed on all members to take an active
role in maintaining the integrity of their professions, which presumably
includes reporting errant colleagues.13
This ideal view of professional research is central to one of the most
influential publications describing the professional foundations of research,
the National Academies’ On Being a Scientist.14 In line with Merton’s
norms, On Being a Scientist is organized around the premise that the
communal search for truth is fundamental to, and protects the integrity of,
The object of research is to extend human knowledge of the
physical, biological, or social world beyond what is already known.
But an individual’s knowledge properly enters the domain of
science only after it is presented to others in such a fashion that they
can independently judge its validity. . . .15
The communal nature of research helps assure its objectivity:
[The] ongoing process of review and revision [in research] is
critically important. It minimizes the influence of individual
subjectivity by requiring that research results be accepted by other
scientists. It also is a powerful inducement for researchers to be
critical of their own conclusions because they know that their
objective must be to try to convince their ablest colleagues.16
Ultimately the community’s “social mechanisms,” which is another way of
saying its professional structure, assure its responsibility:
The social mechanisms of science do more than validate what
comes to be known as scientific knowledge. They also help
generate and sustain the body of experimental techniques, social
conventions, and other “methods” that scientists use in doing and
reporting research . . . . Because they reflect socially accepted
standards in science, their application is a key element of
responsible scientific practice.17
For the past fifty years, this view has reassured most researchers that they
can, and are, managing their own professional affairs quite nicely and that
no additional help is needed, particularly from government.18
Ideals are goals to be achieved and do not necessarily reflect real
behavior. Not long after the Bush plan was adopted, doubts about the Cold
War and the emergence of environmental awareness led some to question
whether the autonomy given to scientists was truly serving the public’s
interest. Focusing on one of the central tenants of post-war science, the
“control of nature,” science writer Rachel Carson argued that it is:
. . . a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age
of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature
exists for the convenience of man. The concepts and practices of
applied entomology for the most part date from that Stone Age of
science. It is our alarming misfortune that so primitive a science
has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and
that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them
against the earth.19
Such critiques opened the door to subsequent, broader debate about the
moral responsibilities of scientists, which quickly spilled over into most
fields of research.20
The debate over moral and social responsibility started by Carson and
others resulted in the development of an STS (science, technology and
society) movement,21 which further spawned such research programs as the
16. Id. at 3–4.
17. Id. at 4.
18. UNITED STATES CONGRESS & COMMITTEE, L. A. H. R. (1981) hearings.
19. RACHEL CARSON, SILENT SPRING 297 (1962).
20. See, e.g., DANIEL S. GREENBERG, THE POLITICS OF PURE SCIENCE (1967).
21. See, e.g., STS EDUCATION: INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVES ON REFORM (Joan Solomon &
Glen Aikenhead eds., 1994).
NSF Ethics and Values in Science and Technology (EVIST) program22 and
the NIH Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) program.23 These
developments challenged the notion that research is inherently beneficial.
Some critics proposed that researchers have an obligation to think more
deeply about their own social responsibilities and to engage society in
discussions about social responsibility.24 At roughly the same time, doubts
about social responsibility led a few researchers to look more closely at
their own behavior and question whether the so-called Mertonian norms
were, in fact, followed in practice. One key study, Ian Mitroff’s work on the
Apollo astronauts, concluded that, in practice, researchers often subscribed
to norms that are directly the opposite of the Mertonian norms,25 a finding
that has been confirmed by recent studies.26
Further doubts about the moral character of research emerged with the
discovery of widespread unethical and improper research practices:
beginning in the 1960s with objections to the way animals were used in
research;27 to the reports of gross violations of codes for human
experimentation in the 1970s;28 and to the more recent discovery of
research misconduct, failure to properly manage conflicts of interest,
authorship violations and other practices that fall short of responsible professional
behavior in research.29 These discoveries, and a growing body of research
on research integrity, provide a view of research behavior that contrasts
sharply with the ideals that researchers believe should prevail.
The gap between ideals and reality exists in all aspects of research.
Researchers accept or demand credit for authorship they do not deserve.30
They fail to properly manage and report conflicts of interest.31 They do not
share data with colleagues or protect the privacy of privileged
information.32 They allow bias to influence peer review.33 They oversell findings in
research abstracts,34 do not keep proper research records35 and include
34. See Callaham et al., supra note 31.; Honest Honest & Khalid S. Khan, Reporting of
Measures of Accuracy in Systematic Reviews of Diagnostic Literature, 2 BMC HEALTH SERV.
RES. 4 (2002).
equate or misleading information in notes.36 Most significantly, as far as the
public and policymakers are concerned, they fabricate, falsify and
plagiarize their research results at rates that far exceed the, too often
presumed, “rare” occurrence of these behaviors.37 In practice, research is a
competitive, demanding, at times ruthless and not-always-fair profession.38
This is the side of research students and young researchers too often
encounter when they begin their professional careers. The challenge educators
face is how to motivate new researchers to strive for the ideal in a world
that can be seen as rewarding counter values.
CURRENT APPROACHES TO FOSTERING PROFESSIONALISM
AND INTEGRITY IN RESEARCH
In line with the view that research progresses best when it is left to set
its own agenda, the current approach to fostering professionalism and
integrity in research relies heavily on universities, professional societies, journals
and other local institutions to develop researchers’ sense of right or proper
professional behavior—their professional ethical identity. There are, of
course, exceptions. The federal government requires that anyone who uses
animals39 or humans40 in research receive some training on responsible
practices. Research training programs funded by the NSF41 and NIH42 must
provide some specific instruction on responsible research practices.
Research institutions that receive government funding are also expected to
establish policies for investigating misconduct43 and assuring oversight of
conflicts of interest.44 These and other federal research policies,
supplemented by some state policies, have been instrumental in getting the
research establishment to recognize its responsibility to promote
professionalism in research. However, government has for the most part
taken a hands-off approach to implementation, relying primarily on three
major elements of the research establishment—journals, professional
societies and universities—to develop, implement and assess efforts to foster
professional development in researchers. The accomplishments of these
institutions in meeting these challenges have been mixed.
Considering the fact that federal regulations by and large do not apply
to journals, the efforts journal editors have made to promote integrity in
research are commendable. We know more about integrity in publication
than any other area of research, due in large measure to the editor-initiated
Peer Review Congresses, which have met every four years since 1989.45
Through these Congresses and other research on publication, key integrity
issues in research publication have been identified, steps have been taken to
deal with them, and the success of some interventions has been assessed.46
Large numbers of journals have joined together to set common standards
for publication in research, such as the ICJME.47 There is even an
organization, started in the United Kingdom—the Committee on Publication
Ethics—that addresses and provides guidance to editors on publication ethics.48
In the wake of public concern about misconduct in research, a few
professional societies published general accounts of the norms and
principles that guide responsible professional behavior in research, such as the
National Academies’ On Being a Scientist49 and two publications by the
scientific research society Sigma Xi—Honor in Science50 and The
Responsible Researcher.51 These publications are designed to be read
independently or used in courses. Unfortunately, their impact has not been assessed,
making it difficult to know what role they play in the development of an
awareness of professional ethical responsibility in research. Moreover,
these examples are the exceptions, not the rule. Five years ago, when the
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) surveyed
its member organizations to find out what they were doing to promote
integrity in research, the results were less than promising. The good news was
that some of the member societies were aware of their responsibility to
promote integrity and had initiated some efforts to clarify standards and
promote education; however, the efforts overall were small in number and
often not carefully thought out or assessed for effectiveness.52
Scarce resources are often cited as the reason for a lack of attention to
ethics and integrity by professional societies, but this seems to be more of
an excuse than a reason. In 2002, the Office of Research Integrity and the
Association of Academic Medical Colleges joined together “to encourage
academic societies to provide leadership to the research community through
initiatives designed to promote the responsible conduct of research.”53 Over
four years, the program provided one million dollars through thirty-nine
awards to thirty-three professional societies to develop and promote
responsible research practices among their members.54 However, the program did
not generate enough interest—particularly from the largest, most influential
societies—to justify its continuation.
As the place where most researchers are trained, universities are
ideally situated to instill professional ethics and responsible research practices.
Nonetheless, universities offered little formal training on responsible
practices before they were required to do so in the early 1990s. Early reports,
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such as one issued by the University of Michigan Task Force on Integrity in
Scholarship,55 or pioneering courses, such as one at the University of Texas
at Galveston,56 were not embraced by other universities. Only after the
National Academy’s Institute of Medicine recommended more emphasis on
formal training57 and the NIH required such training,58 did universities
began to develop seminars, courses, web sites and other ways to provide
students with formal training on responsible research practices.59 These efforts
initially were planned mostly for biomedical and behavioral science
students, but they have slowly expanded. NSF began requiring formal RCR
instruction for its trainees in 1997,60 and it is currently under a
Congressional directive to extend this training to all students working on
Looking at these efforts as a whole, they reflect significant progress.
Twenty years ago, institutions offered little training in responsible research
practices. Many professional societies had done little to define the
responsibilities of their members, and journal policies focused primarily on
technical details—not authorship qualifications or the need to report conflicts of
interest. Through the events of the last twenty years, many steps have been
taken to clarify and develop approaches that are designed to raise awareness
of ethical responsibility in professional researchers.
With so many different sources of guidance, however, it is difficult to
plan and track the professional ethical development of researchers. What
are the goals of these efforts?62 Are they designed to impart basic
information, develop skills, raise ethical awareness, change behavior or achieve
other objectives? Over the past two decades, the concern raised by the
discovery of misconduct and other misbehavior in research has spurred a great
deal of action, but there has been little central planning and few efforts to
PROFESSIONALISM AND INTEGRITY IN RESEARCH
think deeply or carefully about research as a professional endeavor with
shared values and common goals. This, in turn, makes it difficult to even
discuss, much less implement, a plan for fostering ethical responsibility in
research. Before any serious planning can be done, researchers as a whole
need to revisit two old but unresolved problems: the lack of a common code
of ethics for research and inadequate formulation of best practices in
V. A CODE OF ETHICS FOR RESEARCHERS
Scientists have on numerous occasions discussed whether they need a
code of ethics. As early as 1927, an AAAS subcommittee endorsed and
proposed the adoption of a Code of Ethics for Scientific Men. The Code
proposed that scientists:
(1) Assume an obligation to do honest work and to impartially present the
same to the public, regardless of political, economic or religious
prejudice, pressure or tradition;
(2) Exemplify in [their] conduct and work a courageous regard for the
whole people, and not alone some powerful and influential fraction
thereof with which [they] come in close personal contact;
(3) Recognize and assume a dual obligation (a) to do the best possible
work in [their] field, (b) to promote the social and economic welfare
of [their] colleagues and [selves];
(4) Promote the dignity of [their] profession; avoid malicious criticism of
colleagues; cultivate a professional consciousness;
) Do not publish the work of colleagues or subordinates without giving
full credit where credit is due; authorship should be determined on the
basis of the responsibility for the ideas involved, conception and
organization of the project, actual field or research work, and actual
compilation and writing of the results;
) Avoid, alike, hasty and superficial publication, and the holding of real
results indefinitely without publication;
) Take the public into your confidence; in the end the public pays the
bills and has a right to know what is going on.63
Two decades later, concern that many articles were “not written so that the
work can be repeated” led to a call for clearer standards for authorship,
63. The Comm. on Soc. and Econ. Welfare of Scientific Men, A Code of Ethics for Scientific
Men, 66 SCIENCE 103, 103–04 (1927). The provisions left out (5–9) deal with fair employment
practices, relationships with colleagues and contract work. The code was designed to assist the
work of a broad AAAS committee interested in “the advancement of research and research
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publication and peer review in research and for better guidance for peer
reviewers to reduce bias in publication.64 The aim of these early proposals
was to provide clearer common standards for expected behavior in the
dayto-day practice of science, presumably to foster integrity and reduce
The discussion of codes of ethics for science continued in the 1960s,
but with a new focus. Driven by the divide between supporters and critics
of science, social responsibility—not the day-to-day behavior of
researchers—became the driving force behind proposals for codes of ethics for
scientists. The new tone was reflected in a letter regarding standards of
ethical conduct written in 1962 in reference to the role of Soviet physicists
in promoting the Cold War:
Is it not high time the scientific community, and specifically the
great international scientific societies, acknowledge that the age
of romantic innocence in science is dead? Is it not high time for
them to set up standards of ethical conduct for the members of
their professions, so that it may become plain for all the world to
see that, whatever their professional skill, the scientific
accomplices of test-ban cheating and atmosphere poisoning and nuclear
blackmail are not honored colleagues among them?65
Two years later, Los Alamos researcher Lawrence Cranberg attempted to
move the discussion of social responsibility forward by proposing that
science follow the model of engineering and adopt a code of ethics.66
However, the response to his proposal was mixed. One supportive letter in
Science noted that the Society for Social Responsibility in Science had
already adopted such a code, which committed each member:
(1) to foresee, insofar as possible, the results of his professional work,
(2) to assume personal moral responsibility for the consequences of
this work, not delegating this responsibility to his employer,
(3) to put his own efforts only into that work which he feels will be of
lasting benefit to mankind, and
(4) to share his scientific knowledge, and such ethical judgments as
are based upon it, with government and laymen in order that they
may intelligently use the tools which science provides.67
Others felt that the only code scientists needed was “the principle of
‘scientific honesty’ and the complete realization that this is the very essence of
PROFESSIONALISM AND INTEGRITY IN RESEARCH
science.”68 “The mere thought of setting up a code of ethics for scientists,”
one commentator suggested, “is insulting!”69
In 1977, Andre´ Cournand tried to bring the two sides together by
proposing a melding of a code for individual scientists with a broader “ethic of
development.” His recommendations for the code for individual scientists
accepted Merton’s four norms, summarized as: 1) intellectual integrity and
objectivity, 2) tolerance, 3) doubt of certitude, 4) recognition of error and
added two more: unselfish engagement and communal spirit.70 The goal of
the broader “ethic of development” was to promote “the conception of a
worldwide scientific community as a source of humanizing influences on
mankind’s development.”71 As with earlier recommendations, these, too,
were soon forgotten.
Discussion about the need for, and appropriate focus of, a code of
ethics for science/research continues to this day. There remains strong support
for some type of general statement about social responsibility, such as the
one proposed by Student Pugwash USA (SPUSA) in the late 1990s. SPUSA
urges each student to pledge that “I promise to”:
[W]ork for a better world, where science and technology are used
in socially responsible ways. I will not use my education for any
purpose intended to harm human beings or the environment.
Throughout my career, I will consider the ethical implications of
my work before I take action. While the demands placed upon me
may be great, I sign this declaration because I recognize that
individual responsibility is the first step on the path to peace.72
Others have suggested the adoption of short statements of principle
covering all aspects of research, such as The Universal Ethical Code for
Scientists proposed by the United Kingdom’s former chief science advisor, Sir
David King.73 The three elements of the Universal Code, referred to as
Rigour: Rigour, honesty and integrity;
Respect: Respect for life, the law and the public good;
Responsibility: Responsible communication: listening and
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Today the professional codes of conduct for research have become so
complex and numerous that efforts have been undertaken to collect, codify and
The fact that scientists in particular, and researchers more generally,
either cannot agree or do not have the will to agree to a statement of basic
guiding principles undermines professionalism in research. Reviewing this
situation as it pertains to the biological sciences, Jones concludes:
The time is ripe for scientific communities to reinvigorate
professionalism and define the basis of their social contracts. Codifying
the social contract between science and society is a crucial step in
sustaining public trust in the scientific enterprise. Appeals to the
ideology of science and blind trust will no longer suffice.76
At the very least, the lack of a clear code of conduct for research
makes it difficult to foster ethical responsibility during the professional
education of researchers. Which code or codes should they embrace? What
should they do if codes conflict? When working on interdisciplinary or
international projects, which codes should they follow? Research has yet to
establish a clear ethical foundation on which professional research is built.
Instead, it has been comfortable with a fragmented network of general
understandings, commonly accepted practices and a growing number of codes
written for different purposes. This, in turn, makes it difficult to instill in
new researchers the principles that should guide professional practice in
VI. BEST PRACTICES
Codes define the general principles that shape professional conduct.
They do not provide the specific information needed to deal with difficult
decisions about responsibility that arise in the day-to-day practice of
research. Who should be listed as authors on a paper? When should data be
shared, and when should it be protected? How closely should peers check
the work they are reviewing? Research in all fields is a complex activity,
making it difficult to know the difference between acceptable and
unacceptable behavior. Its complexity can be reduced if information about best
practices—practices that set the standard for responsible conduct—is well
defined, consistent and readily available.
There is today considerable unacceptable variation in way best
practices are established and disseminated in research. Advice on what one
should do can be found in codes of ethics, regulations, policies, guidelines,
75. UNESCO, DIV. OF ETHICS AND SCI. TECH., INTERIM ANALYSIS OF CODES OF CONDUCT
AND CODES OF ETHICS (2006); Simone Sholze, Setting Standards for Scientists, 7 EMBO REP. 65
(2006); KATHINKA EVERS, STANDARDS FOR ETHICS AND RESPONSIBILITY IN SCIENCE: AN
ANALYSIS AND EVALUATION OF THEIR CONTENT, BACKGROUND AND FUNCTION (2001).
76. Nancy L. Jones, A Code of Ethics for the Life Sciences, 13 SCI. & ENG’G ETHICS 25, 41
textbooks and many other sources of information about research. There are
also unwritten “rules,” often referred to as “commonly accepted practices,”
that play an important role in guiding researchers’ behavior.77 As with
codes, the absence of clear guidance for responsible practice makes it
difficult to foster a sense of professional ethical responsibility during
professional training, particularly in a profession that is known to tolerate
Developing best practices for research is not an easy task. It can be,
and has been done, through regulation. Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)
must review government-funded research that uses human subjects.
“Fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism” constitute “research
misconduct” and subject researchers who engaged in these practices to disciplinary
action. The federal government has made the decision that these are “best
practices,” that is, standards that must be followed.79 However, even
seemingly clear rules such as these are subject to interpretation. For example, in
2000, the Office of Science and Technology Policy established a uniform,
federal definition for misconduct in research and outlined uniform
procedures for reporting and responding to allegations.80 In responding to this
policy, different governmental agencies have adopted different mechanisms
for reporting and responding, and research institutions have added to the
federal definition of misconduct.81 There is, therefore, no single “best
practice” for reporting and responding to misconduct that can be applied
without some further understanding of the details of the best practice and how or
when it was applied. The same is true for human-subjects research and the
work of IRBs, which is today undergoing significant reassessment while
government and researchers debate best practices.82
Such limitations notwithstanding, there is considerable room between
loosely described ideals and ironclad rules to clarify best practices in
research. Substantial progress toward this end has already been made in a few
key areas, particularly in describing best practices for publication and
authorship. Thirty years ago, before misconduct in research became a major
public concern, authorship and publication guidelines were largely set by
individual journals or, when no authorship rules existed, by laboratories and
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individual researchers. To bring more consistency to this aspect of research
practice, a group of medical journal editors, known as the Vancouver Group
after the site of the original meeting, established guidelines for submitting
articles to its journals. Over time, the group formalized its name as the
International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), and its
guidelines became known as the ICMJE Uniform Requirements.83 Similar rules
for authorship and publication have been developed by the Committee on
Publication Ethics, the World Medical Council and the Consolidated
Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) Group.84
The Uniform Requirements and other publication guidelines for best
practices do not resolve all issues. There is still need for interpretation.
Nonetheless, they do provide a foundation on which to begin to build a
common understanding of responsible ethical practice to apply broadly
across different research areas and institutions. For example, the Uniform
Requirements set three minimum standards for determining authorship:
(1) substantial contributions to conception and design, or acquisition
of data, or analysis and interpretation of data;
(2) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual
(3) final approval of the version to be published.85
To be considered an author by ICMJE standards, a researcher must meet all
three criteria. This standard is now accepted by others, establishing some
agreement on best practices for authorship.86 Moreover, the continuing
discussion of this standard and proposals for other ways to report authorship,
such as describing authors’ contributions in publications,87 are promoting a
much-needed and helpful discussion of professionalism in research. By
confronting this aspect of professional behavior, the journal editors and
others who have fostered this discussion are helping to define the ethics of
Similar efforts to define more clearly the best practices that should
guide professional behavior in research are needed for all aspects of
research—from responsible design, the choice of tools for analysis, and plans
to collect and store data, to more day-to-day practices and all aspects of
dissemination. Over twenty years ago, a committee at the University of
Michigan chaired by this author briefly summarized these steps and
PROFESSIONALISM AND INTEGRITY IN RESEARCH
posed that they be expanded into a code for all scholars at the University
(Figure 1). The proposal was not adopted at Michigan or at other
universities that were developing their own policies at the same time. The same is
true for steps that could or should be taken to improve the professional
training of researchers (Figure 2) and for the responsibilities of research
institutions (Figure 3).88 If research is a professional activity, then more
effort is needed to describe and establish clear standards for all that this
Researchers have, however, a strain of independence and blind faith in
truth that sometimes stands in the way of taking steps to foster professional
development. During their discussion of rules for authorship, one researcher
at the Council of Science Editors warned that:
. . . [T]o solve these problems, I do not believe we need to change
the “rules,” but rather to attempt as best we can to be fair when
assigning credit for contributions to research projects and
programs. In other words, we need to be ethical. No matter how
seemingly antiquated, and no matter that it sometimes fails, this
method may be the best we can do. In fact, the very idea that we
need some set of new rules could be taken to imply that we are
often unethical in our conduct of science. If that is truly the case,
no set of rules can help us.89
Rules in the form of clearly defined best practices, combined with a
reasonably detailed code of ethics for all research, would make a difference,
particularly for fostering a sense of professional ethical responsibility
during the professional education of researchers. If truth, fairness, objectivity
and the other general principles that are fundamental to all research, as well
as to life in general, were self-evident in their application, then further
explanation might not be necessary. The fact that they are not self-evident
means that someone has to help new researchers understand and embrace
their responsibilities as professionals. Defining those responsibilities more
clearly, across different fields of study, institutions and national boundaries,
is the most practical and achievable way to begin the important task of
fostering a sense of ethical professional responsibility in research.
88. COMM. ON ASSESSING INTEGRITY IN RESEARCH ENV’TS, NAT’L RESEARCH COUNCIL, INST.
OF MED., INTEGRITY IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH: CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT THAT PROMOTES
RESPONSIBLE CONDUCT (Nat’l Aca. Press 2002).
89. Posting of Lawrence P. Reynolds to http://www.councilscienceeditors.org/services/
messages2/11.html (Aug. 31, 2000, 13:36:20).
UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS LAW JOURNAL
Make sure that the plan of investigation fairly represents the intent of
the work that is to be undertaken;
Attribute appropriate credit to the contributions of others in the
intended field of investigation;
(3) Consider the ethical and professional standards that should be
maintained throughout the impending investigation;
(4) Realistically appraise the likelihood of the project being completed as
Disclose any factors that might reasonably be seen as having a bearing
on the objectivity of the study;
(6) Carry out research in keeping with the intent of the original plan of
investigation, and, as appropriate, report significant departures from
the work plan;
(7) Record and report data fully and accurately, keeping sufficient records
to allow subsequent verification;
(8) Insure proper supervision of any work not directly undertaken by
themselves (the guiding principle here should be a willingness to take
full responsibility for any work undertaken under the primary
(9) Insure that all rules (e.g., of the parent institution, government and
professional associations) for conducting such investigations are met;
) Insure that the results of their investigations are available to
colleagues for use in furthering scholarly investigation;
) Insure that reports and publications are accurate;
) Give proper credit to all individuals who have worked on a particular
) Take credit for no more work than they conducted;
) Cite work that has been used in or will help readers understand the
significance of the investigation;
) Be prudent in using dissemination as a means to personal
advancement, whenever possible avoiding replicate or partial publication that
may have limited intellectual benefits;
90. Adapted from U. OF MICH. TASK FORCE ON INTEGRITY IN SCHOLARSHIP, supra note 55.
(16) Take appropriate action to insure that unethical behavior is not
tolerated in the scholarly world whenever or wherever such behavior
(17) Maintain confidentiality when confidentiality is an accepted and
integral part of scholarship;
(18) Be concerned about the broad social, political, economic and physical
consequences of their work.
UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS LAW JOURNAL
(1) Introduce ethical considerations into content-oriented courses, i.e.,
into basic biology, psychology and other courses;
(2) Raise ethical considerations in research settings, especially when
students begin to work as assistants or conduct their own original work in
Make available and perhaps require courses that deal with professional
(4) Spell out clearly accepted standards of behavior with regard to
cheating, plagiarism and other violations of ethical behavior;
(5) Set aside time to discuss the ethical aspects of research, particularly
those pertaining to confidentiality, data collection, drawing
conclusions, giving citations, acknowledgements and authorship;
Make sure that students practice ethical responsibility when they begin
to manage their own research projects;
(7) Encourage a healthy research atmosphere in their own laboratories.
PROFESSIONALISM AND INTEGRITY IN RESEARCH
(1) Insure that guidelines for proper ethical conduct are clearly
formulated, readily available and openly discussed;
(2) Encourage efforts to raise ethical issues in the context of scholarship;
(3) Remind scholars of their responsibility to help maintain high ethical
(4) Support committees and units charged with insuring that research
conforms to established guidelines (such as those established by human
and animal use, recombinant DNA, radioisotopes and hazardous
biological and chemical materials committees);
Accept the responsibility to undertake impartial investigations of
allegations of unethical behavior;
(6) Insure that the quality of research, not the quantity of research, is the
primary scholarly requirement for promotion and salary raises, and
that the quality of research is judged by competent peers;
(7) Try to avoid policy decisions that could place unreasonable burdens
on scholars, e.g., increasing to too high a level the percentage of a
scholar’s salary that must be supported by sponsored, consulting or
Keep the demand for scholarly productivity reasonably balanced with
a recognition of the importance of teaching and service activities.
10. For an example of the later acceptance and expansion of Merton's norms into a code of ethics, see Andre Cournand, The Code of the Scientist and Its Relationship to Ethics, 198 SCI. 699 , 699 - 705 ( 1977 ).
11. VANNEVAR BUSH , DIR . OF THE OFFICE OF SCI. RESEARCH AND DEV., SCIENCE, THE ENDLESS FRONTIER: A REPORT TO THE PRESIDENT ( 1945 ), available at http://www.nsf.gov/about/history/vbush1945.htm.
12. See generally SCIENCE FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: THE BUSH REPORT REVISITED (Claude E . Barfield ed., 1997 ); GREGG PASCAL ZACHARY , ENDLESS FRONTIER ( 1997 ).
13. U.S. DEP'T OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES , COMM'N ON RESEARCH INTEGRITY , INTEGRITY AND MISCONDUCT IN RESEARCH: REPORT OF THE COMMISSION ON RESEARCH INTEGRITY 17 , 45 ( 1995 ), available at ori. dhhs.gov/documents/report_commission.pdf.
14. NAT'L ACAD . OF SCI. , COMM. ON SCI. , ENG' G , AND PUB . POLICY, supra note 6.
15. Id . at 3.
22. Rochelle D. Hollander & Nicholas H. Steneck , Science- and Engineering-Related Ethics and Values Studies: Characteristics of an Emerging Field of Research , 15 SCI., TECH. & HUM. VALUES 84 , 84 - 104 ( 1990 ).
23. Nat 'l Inst. of Health, Nat'l Hum . Genome Research Inst., The Ethical , Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) Research Program . This program was founded in 1990, and their website is available at http://www.genome.gov/10001618.
24. For a discussion of the origins of the new philosophies of the 1960s, see ANDREW JAMISON & RON EYERMAN, SEEDS OF THE SIXTIES ( 1994 ). The need for more emphasis on social responsibilities is expressed in many books and articles . See, e.g., FRITJOF CAPRA , THE TAO OF PHYSICS ( 1975 ) ; FRITJOF CAPRA, THE TURNING POINT: SCIENCE, SOCIETY AND THE RISING CULTURE ( 1982 ); E.F. SHUMACHER , SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: ECONOMICS AS IF PEOPLE MATTERED (Harper & Row 1989 ) ( 1973 ).
25. See generally IAN MITROFF, THE SUBJECTIVE SIDE OF SCIENCE ( 1983 ) ; MASSIMIANO BUCCHI, SCIENCE IN SOCIETY: AN INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL STUDIES OF SCIENCE (Adrian Belton trans ., Routledge 2004 ) ( 2002 ).
26. Melissa S. Anderson , Brian C. Martinson & Raymond De Vries , Normative Dissonance in Science: Results from a National Survey of U.S. Scientists , J. EMPIRICAL RES. ON HUM. RES. ETHICS 3 , 3 - 14 ( 2007 ).
27. For basic information on the rules governing the use of animal subjects in research, see NICHOLAS H. STENECK, ORI INTRODUCTION TO THE RESPONSIBLE CONDUCT OF RESEARCH 52, 52 - 55 ( 2007 ), available at ori.dhhs.gov/documents/rcrintro.pdf.
28. For basic information on the rules governing the use of human subjects in research, see id . at 36-38.
29. For a summary of recent research on research integrity, see Nicholas H . Steneck , Fostering Integrity in Research: Definitions, Current Knowledge , and Future Directions, 12 SCI . & ENG'G ETHICS 53 , 53 - 74 ( 2006 ).
35. See Am . Insts. for Research , Survey of Research Integrity Measures Utilized in Biomedical Research Laboratories Final Report ( 2003 ), http://ori.dhhs.gov/documents/research/intergity_ measures_ final_report_11_07_03 .pdf.
36. See , e.g., Carol A. Doms , A Survey of Reference Accuracy in Five National Dental Journals, 68 J. DENT. RES . 442 ( 1989 ); J. T. Evans et al., Quotational and Reference Accuracy in Surgical Journals , 263 JAMA 1353, 1353 - 54 ( 1990 ); Pierre George & Kathryn Robbins , Reference Accuracy in the Dermatologic Literature, 31 J. AM. ACAD. DERMATOLOGY 61 ( 1994 ) ; Migiwa Asano et al ., The Accuracy of References in Anesthesia, 50 ANESTHESIA 1080 , 1080 - 82 ( 1995 ) ; Lisa Schulmeister, Quotation and Reference Accuracy of Three Nursing Journals, 30 IMAGE J . NURS. SCH . 143 ( 1998 ); J.E. Fenton et al., The Accuracy of Citation and Quotation in Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery Journals, 25 CLINICAL OTOLARYNGYOLOGY 40 ( 2000 ); C. Gosling et al., Referencing and Quotation Accuracy in Four Manual Therapy Journals, 9 MANUAL THERAPY 36 ( 2004 ); U. Y. Raja & J. G. Cooper , How Accurate Are the References in Emergency Medical Journal?, 23 EMERGENCY MED . J. 625 ( 2006 ).
37. See Brian C. Martinson et al., Scientists Behaving Badly , 435 NATURE 737 ( 2005 ). For estimates of the rate of misconduct, see Nicholas H . Steneck , Fostering Integrity in Research: Definitions, Current Knowledge , and Future Directions, 12 SCI. ENG'G ETHICS 53 ( 2006 ).
38. See Raymond De Vries et al., The Perverse Effects of Competition on Scientists' Work and Relationships , 13 SCI. ENG'G ETHICS 437 ( 2007 ); Raymond De Vries et al., Normal Misbehavior: Scientists Talk About the Ethics of Research, 1 J. EMPIRICAL RES. ON HUMAN RES. ETHICS 43 ( 2006 ).
39. Nicholas H. Steneck , ORI Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research, at 4a ( 2004 ), http://ori.hhs.gov/steneck/RCRintro/c04/1c4.html.
40. Id . at 4d.
41. See Nat'l Sci . Found ., Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT) , http://www.igert. org (last visited June 12 , 2008 ).
42. See Nat'l Inst . Health Guide for Grants & Contracts, Reminder and Update: Requirement for Instruction in the Responsible Conduct of Research in National Research Service Award Institutional Training Grants, 21 NIH GUIDE 2-3 ( 1992 ).
43. Proposed Federal Policy on Research Misconduct to Protect the Integrity of the Research Record , 64 Fed. Reg. 55 , 722 , 55 ,723 (proposed Oct. 14 , 1999 ).
44. Steneck , supra note 39, at 4d.
45. See Peer Review Congress Home Page , http://www.ama-assn.org/public/peer/peerhome.htm (last visited June 12 , 2008 ).
46. Publications from the Peer Review Congresses can be found in the Journal of the American Medical Association issues dated June 5 , 2002 , July 15, 1998 and July 13 , 1994 . See Journal of the American Medical Association , Past Online Issues, http://jama.ama-assn. org/contents-bydate.0.dtl (last visited June 12 , 2008 ).
47. See Int'l Comm . of Med . J. Editors, Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Biomedical Publication , http://www.icmje.org/index.html# references (last visited May 9 , 2008 ).
48. See generally Committee of Publication Ethics, http://www.publicationethics.org. uk (last visited May 9 , 2008 ).
49. See Nat'l Acad . Press, On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, available at http://www.nap.edu/html/obas (last visited May 9 , 2008 ).
50. See SIGMA XI: THE SCI . RESEARCH SOC'Y STAFF, HONOR IN SCIENCE ( 2000 ).
51. See SIGMA XI: THE SCI . RESEARCH SOC'Y STAFF, THE RESPONSIBLE RESEARCHER: PATHS AND PITFALLS ( 1999 ).
52. See Margot Iverson et al., Scientific Societies and Research Integrity: What Are They Doing and How Well Are They Doing It? , 9 SCI. & ENG'G ETHICS 141 ( 2003 ). For additional information on the efforts of societies, see Francis L. Macrina, Scientific Societies and Promotion of the Responsible Conduct of Research: Codes, Policies, and Education , 82 ACAD. MED . 865 ( 2007 ).
53. Office of Research Integrity, Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Program for Academic Societies , http://ori.dhhs.gov/education/pas.shtml (last visited June 12 , 2008 ).
54. Ass 'n of Am. Med. Colleges, AAMC-ORI Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Program for Academic Societies , http://www.aamc.org/programs/ori/start. htm (last visited May 9 , 2008 ).
55. U. OF MICH. TASK FORCE ON INTEGRITY IN SCHOLARSHIP, MAINTAINING THE INTEGRITY OF SCHOLARSHIP ( 1984 ).
56. Ruth E. Bulger & Stanley J. Reiser , Studying Science in the Context of Ethics, 68 ACAD. MED. S5-9 ( 1993 ).
57. INST. OF MED. COMM. ON THE RESPONSIBLE CONDUCT OF RESEARCH, THE RESPONSIBLE CONDUCT OF RESEARCH IN THE HEALTH SCIENCES 4 ( 1989 ).
58. See Nat'l Inst . Health Guide for Grants & Contracts, supra note 42.
59. For a fuller discussion of this history, see Nicholas H . Steneck & Ruth E. Bulger , The History, Purpose, and Future of Instruction in the Responsible Conduct of Research, 82 ACAD. MED . 829 ( 2007 ).
60. Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT) Home Page , http://www.igert.org. An introduction to the IGERT program is available at http://www.nsf.gov/ crssprgm/igert/intro.jsp.
61. America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act (America Competes Act) , Pub. L. No. 110 - 69 , § 7009 , 121 Stat. 572 , 574 ( 2007 ).
62. See Michael W. Kalichman , Responding to Challenges in Educating for the Responsible Conduct of Research, 82 ACAD. MED . 870 ( 2007 ); Michael W. Kalichman & Dena K. Plemmons , Reported Goals for Responsible Conduct of Research Courses, 82 ACAD. MED . 846 ( 2007 ), for a discussion of different goals .
64. Ward Pigman & Emmett B. Carmichael , An Ethical Code for Scientists, 111 SCIENCE 643 , 644 ( 1950 ).
65. Alexander Wittenberg & Henry S. Kaplan , Standards of Ethical Conduct, 135 SCIENCE 997 , 997 ( 1962 ).
66. Lawrence Cranberg , Ethical Code for Scientists?, 141 SCIENCE 1242 ( 1963 ).
67. W. E. Graham, Ethical Code for Scientists?, 142 SCIENCE 1257 ( 1963 ).
68. F. R. Fosberg , Code of Ethics, 142 SCIENCE 916 ( 1963 ).
69. Henry Lanz , Code of Ethics, 142 SCIENCE 916 ( 1963 ).
70. Andre ´ Cournand, The Code of the Scientist and its Relationship to Ethics, 198 SCIENCE 699, 700 ( 1977 ). See Andre´ Cournand & M. Meyer, The Scientist's Code , 14 MINERVA 79 ( 1976 ); Andre´ Cournand & H. Zuckerman , The Code of Science: Analysis and Some Reflections on its Future, 23 Studium Generale 941 ( 1970 ), for a more detailed discussion of Cournand's recommendations.
71. Cournand , 198 SCIENCE at 705.
72. Student Pugwash USA Pledge, available at http://www.spusa.org/pledge/index.html.
73. Donald MacLeod , Ethics Code Seeks to Regulate Science, GUARDIAN (London) , Jan. 5 , 2006 .
74. UNITED KINGDOM GOVERNMENT OFFICE OF SCIENCE, RIGOUR, RESPECT, RESPONSIBILITY: A UNIVERSAL ETHICAL CODE FOR SCIENTISTS ( 2007 ).
77. Raymond De Vries, Melissa S. Anderson & Brian C. Martinson , Normative Dissonance in Science: Results from a National Survey of U.S. Scientists, 2 J. EMPIRICAL RES . HUM. RES. ETHICS 3 ( 2007 ); Raymond De Vries, Melissa S. Anderson & Brian C. Martinson , Normal Misbehavior: Scientists Talk About the Ethics of Research, 1 J. EMPIRICAL RES. HUM. RES. ETHICS 43 ( 2006 ).
78. Martinson et al., supra note 37 , at 737-38.
79. Id .
80. Federal Policy on Research Misconduct, 65 Fed. Reg. 76 , 260 ( Dec . 6, 2000 ).
81. Nicholas H. Steneck , An Interpretive History of Research Misconduct Policy in the United States and Canada, in FRAUD AND MISCONDUCT IN BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH (F. Wells & M. Farthing eds., 2008 ).
82. Norman Fost & Robert J. Levine , The Dysregulation of Human Subjects Research , 298 JAMA 2196 ( 2007 ).
83. Int'l Comm . of Med . Journal Editors, ICMJE Uniform Requirements, available at http:// www.icmje. org (updated Oct . 2007 ).
84. Consol . Standards of Reporting Trials Group, CONSORT Statement, available at http:// www.consort-statement.org.
85. Int'l Comm . of Med . Journal Editors, supra note 83 , at § II.A. 1 .
86. Mich . State U. Research Council, Michigan State University Guidelines on Authorship ( 1998 ), available at http://www.msu.edu/unit/vprgs/authorshipguidelines.htm.
87. Council of Sci. Editors, CSE Policies and Endorsement ( 2008 ), available at http:// www.councilscienceeditors.org/editorial_policies/policies_endorsement.cfm. 2008 ]