Responsible Conduct of Research
Core Subject Areas
Questions relating to the ethical practice of research have been around as long as
research itself. Until the 20th century, however, it was assumed that scientists were
conducting their research in a responsible way or that the profession itself could
identify and weed out the few bad actors. Instances of institutional fraud were thought
to be few. It was generally believed that well-intentioned researchers did not need
clear statements of expectations or conventional norms. A variety of events occurring
in the US and around the world, however, exposed the fallacy of that perception.
In the 1980s, the Federal government, with its fiduciary responsibility for overseeing the use of public funds, became actively involved in identifying and describing dubious research practices. Between 1980 and 1985 the Federal focus and language changed from describing these less-than-adequate practices as “research fraud” to labeling them as “research misconduct.” After several years of Congressional hearings, the definition of misconduct eventually evolved to include intentional acts of fabrication (making up data or results and recording or reporting them), falsification (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) and plagiarism (the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit). The ethics of research has continued to broaden to include much more than misconduct as professional associations and academic institutions focused on the issue through the 1990s.
The preface of On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research (3rd Edition) reminds readers that the scientific research enterprise is built on a foundation of trust. The level of trust that has characterized science and its relationship with society has contributed to unparalleled scientific productivity. Trust endures, the authors argue, only if the scientific community devotes itself to exemplifying and transmitting the values associated with ethical scientific conduct.
The Public Health Service (PHS) has been pressing for more widespread education in the responsible conduct of research for nearly two decades. The actions of PHS and the support of the research community have increased awareness of ethical issues in research and the development of formal instruction in the responsible conduct of research.
Oklahoma State University makes use of the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) as a training component in Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). This online training program consists of a series of tutorial modules focusing on different aspects of RCR and is intended for anyone engaged in research in any field. Modules include instructional material, case studies, additional suggested readings, and a short quiz. Quiz results are recorded and completion documentation is provided to the learner. The CITI RCR tutorial is available here.
Nine core areas have been determined by PHS to be significant in conducting research responsibly and ensuring integrity of the research record. Each of the areas is described briefly below: