Areas of Importance in Research Ethics
The Office of Research Integrity at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has identified "areas of importance" in the responsible conduct of research (RCR). Penn State's Office for Research Protections provides educational programs addressing each of these areas, as well as resources and tools for Penn State faculty to use in teaching these topics to their students.
Teaching resources to support RCR education for each of these areas can be found at our Teaching Tools page.Penn State Office for Research Protections RCR Teaching Tools
RCR Areas of Importance Identified by the Office of Research Integrity, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
i. Data acquisition, management, sharing, and ownership
Understanding the accepted practices for acquiring, selecting, analyzing and retaining research data, the confidentiality and ownership (including IP and copyright concerns) of data, and electronic data collection and storage is an important part of the responsible conduct of research. The Office for Research Protections' Teaching Tools page expands on the topics of acquisition, management, sharing, and ownership of data.
It is important to understand the roles and responsibilities of both mentors and trainees in predoctoral and postdoctoral research programs, to avoid conflicts that can arise from such a relationship. Other important responsible conduct of research issues include collaboration and competition, selection of a mentor, and abuse of the mentor/trainee relationship. The Office for Research Protections' Teaching Tools page expands on the topic of mentoring.
iii. Publication practices and responsible authorship
Publication of the results of scholarly investigation and research is typically a major goal of such work. It is important to be aware of ethical issues related to accepted practices in collaboration and publishing, and the responsibilities of author(s) to research subjects and to the scholarly community. The Office for Research Protections' Teaching Tools page expands on the topics of authorship and plagiarism.
iv. Peer review
Peer review is a cornerstone of the scholarly process, and understanding the purpose of peer review and the responsibilities of reviewers is an important aspect of the responsible conduct of research. The Office for Research Protections' Teaching Tools page expands on the topic of peer review.
In recent years, the ease with which scholars from various parts of the world can communicate has expanded the possibilities for fruitful collaboration. In this environment, it is important to consider the best practices for research collaborations, as well as the complex ethical issues that may arise from such collaborations. The Office for Research Protections' Teaching Tools page expands on the topic of collaboration.
vi. Human participants research
There a many important ethical issues to consider in conducting research with human participants, including (but not limited to) risks and benefits to participants, informed consent, at-risk populations, confidentiality, and the role of institutional review boards. The Office for Research Protections' Teaching Tools page expands on the topic of human participant protections.
vii. Animal welfare
The ethical principles and federal regulations governing research involving animals, treatment of animals, and institutional animal care and use committees, are an important part of the responsible conduct of research. The Office for Research Protections' Teaching Tools page expands on the topic of animal welfare.
viii. Research misconduct
It is important for researchers and scholars to understand what constitutes research misconduct (fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism), the regulations, policies, and guidelines that govern research misconduct, and the outcomes and consequences of research misconduct investigations. The Office for Research Protections' Teaching Tools page expands on the topic of research misconduct.
ix. Conflicts of interest and commitment
The types of conflicts encountered by researchers and institutions can include financial or business-related conflicts, conflicts associated with research collaborations and publication, and conflicts in managing time and commitments to collaborators and advisees. Understanding what constitutes a conflict of interest, and how these conflicts can be managed, are an important part of the responsible conduct of research. The Office for Research Protections' Teaching Tools page expands on the topic of Conflicts of interest and commitment.
Additional Areas of Importance to the Penn State Office for Research Protections:
1. Intellectual property
Complex issues can arise concerning the management, protection, and licensing of intellectual property of researchers and the University. Resources for understanding the rights of faculty and students to intellectual property, and information about patents, licensing, and intellectual property issues related to consulting and entrepreneurship can be found on the Penn State Patents and Licensing page.
2. Fiscal responsibility
Understanding how to effectively manage project budgets, purchasing, travel, and effort responsibly, ensuring compliance with sponsors and policies (especially when working with research-appropriated funds), is an important part of the responsible conduct of research. The Penn State Proposals and Awards page expands on this topic.
3. Research with hazards
It is important that research be conducted in a manner that promotes the safety of researchers, research participants, and the environment. Researchers using biohazardous material, radioisotopes, or other potentially hazardous materials should be sure to obtain appropriate approvals for use, adequate training, maintain necessary inspections and certifications, properly handle and dispose of hazardous materials, and follow appropriate safety procedures. Questions or concerns regarding research safety should be directed to the Office of Environmental Health and Safety at (814) 865-6391 or firstname.lastname@example.org. All other questions or concerns should be directed to the Office for Research Protections' Animal, Biosafety, and Isotopes Research Protection Program.
4. Emerging areas in the responsible conduct of research
As the scope of research and scholarship changes and grows, areas that require responsible decision-making and ethical consideration also expand. Recent areas of interest in this regard include the scientist as a responsible member of society, recent ethical issues in biomedical research, and the environmental and societal impacts of research and scholarship. Watch for resources to be added on contemporary topics such as these on ORP’s Teaching Tools pages.