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Module 3: Conducting Research Responsibly – Protecting Yourself, Your Research, and Your University

3.1 Research integrity

"Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful" (Samuel Johnston, Rasselas XLI).

Researchers bring personal integrity to their research dealings and create a research culture that reflects both their integrity and their knowledge. Much depends on the connotation you put on personal integrity: whether it needs to be placed in a context of moral principles or whether some of the following descriptors from the Oxford Thesaurus are more comfortable: moral uprightness; honesty; wholeness; soundness; rectitude; uprightness;  decency; honour; principle; goodness; virtue, incorruptibility; probity; honesty; veracity, trustworthiness.

Irrespective of how much is written on the concept of personal integrity, it is worth considering how many of those you have admired as mentors and as advisors throughout your research career have displayed the above qualities.

In a definition of integrity in research, the US Institute of Medicine of the National Research Council of the National Academies have proposed

  • For a [researcher,] integrity embodies above all the individual's commitment to intellectual honesty and personal responsibility. It is an aspect of moral character and experience.
  • For an [institution] it is a commitment to creating an environment that promotes responsible conduct by embracing standards of excellence, trustworthiness and lawfulness.

These definitions appear in Integrity in Scientific Research: Creating an Environment That Promotes Responsible Conduct, which can be read onlineif you wish to pursue this further.

In subtopic 1.2, we introduced the Singapore Statement. The Singapore Statement lists four basic principles of research integrity: honesty in all aspects of research; accountability in the conduct of research; professional courtesy and fairness in working with others; and good stewardship of research on behalf of others. The Singapore Statement also lists 13 responsibilities of conducting research with integrity covering such areas as research methods and findings, public communication, and reporting irresponsible research practices. The Singapore Statement and be read online (http://www.singaporestatement.org/) if you wish to pursue this further.

The understanding of ethical principles and ideas, and the ability and willingness to apply them, needs continuous renewal and reinforcement and leads to institutional codes of conduct or to codes of conduct for particular professions. The maintenance of individual ethical habits, and of an ethical organisational culture, requires active participation in processes of regular ethical renewal and reinforcement. These can include peer discussions of organisational values and principles, and individual reflection on ethical problems as they arise. One meeting point of personal and professional ethics comes in the consideration of recognising conflicts of interest: in recognising those situations where it may be possible to promote your own interests and lead to a real or perceived compromise to the independent judgement expected of a researcher. Situations that arise could be intrinsic to your research study design or relate to peer review of funding proposals or of work for publication, your interaction with commercial partners, or other entrepreneurial actions. Conflicts of interest can be declared and worked through, leading either to the elimination or effective management of the area of conflict. Should you find yourself with a strongly personal reason contributing to a conflict of interest, the conflict, but not the reason, needs to be declared. In this situation you would be expected to take no further part in the activity.

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