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Science: conduct codes and ethics

Thursday 22nd July 2010
Courtesy: European Science Foundation

As a new European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity has been presented by the European Science Foundation (ESF) at the Singapore World Conference on Research Integrity, that addresses good practice and bad conduct in science, offering a basis for trust and integrity across national borders, in Scotland at Edinburgh University, scientist Daniele Fanelli publishes a report that raises the ethic question that reporting 'negative' results in science are less likely to be published or cited.

The Europe-wide code offers a reference point for all researchers, complementing existing codes of ethics and complying with national and European legislative frameworks. Not intended to replace existing national or academic guidelines, it represents agreement across 30 countries on a set of principles and priorities for self-regulation of the research community, providing a possible model for a global code of conduct for all research.

"Science is an international enterprise with researchers continually working with colleagues in other countries. Scientists involved need to understand that they share a common set of standards. There can be no first-class research without integrity," says Marja Makarow, (right) ESF CEO.

"Researchers build on each other's results so they must be honest with themselves, and with each other, and share the same standards of fairness, which makes the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity a vital document."

The code describes proper conduct and principled practice of systematic research in the natural and social sciences and the humanities. Research misconduct is quite rare, but just one extraordinary case can endanger the reputation of a university, a research community or even the reputation of science itself.  Europe has experienced several publicised cases recently at the University of East Anglia in the UK, and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

The term ‘research misconduct' embraces many things: insufficient care for the people, animals or objects that are subject of or participants in research; breaches of confidentiality; violation of protocols; carelessness that leads to gross error; improprieties of publication involving conflict of interest or appropriation of ideas. Many of these unacceptable research practices are addressed in the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity.

The code  developed from meetings and workshops involving ESF member organisations, the 79 national funding bodies, and 30 countries research-performing agencies, academies and learned societies. They worked with the All European Academies (ALLEA). Next step to implemention will be discussed by ESF organisations in autumn.

Scottish research on integrity
The UK Research Integrity Office is one of the most comprehensive link lists ComputeScotland has encountered.  In its current news focus is on the work of researcher (left) Dr Daniele Fanelli, INNOGEN and Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation (ISSTI) at the University of Edinburgh whose work, published on PLOS One , looks at the pressure to publish increasing scientists' bias in conflict with both the objectivity and integrity of research, as it forces “publishable” results at all costs.

Papers are less likely to be published and cited reporting “negative” results. The study verified this hypothesis, measuring positive result frequency in a large random sample of papers with a US corresponding author.

Across all disciplines, papers were more likely to support a tested hypothesis if their corresponding authors were working in states that, according to NSF data, produced more academic papers per capita. The size of this effect increased when controlling for state's per capita R&D expenditure and for study characteristics that previous research showed to correlate with the frequency of positive results, including discipline and methodology.

Results support the hypothesis that competitive academic environments increase not only scientists' productivity but also their bias. The same phenomenon might be observed in other countries where academic competition and pressures to publish are high.

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