Responsible Conduct of Research

The term research ethics refers to the ethics of planning, conducting, and reporting research.  Concerns with research ethics, and especially the prevention of research misconduct, have grown steadily over the past several decades.  Although it can be difficult to derive accurate estimates of the frequency of research misconduct, many serious allegations of misconduct have been widely publicized in recent years, and a number of those allegations were confirmed by subsequent investigations.

Research misconduct includes, but is not limited to, fabrication (making up data or results), falsification (changing or misreporting data or results), and plagiarism (using the ideas or words of another person without giving appropriate credit).  Research misconduct can cause many different kinds of harm, including: 

  • Harm to the basic advancement of scientific knowledge
  • Harm to the health and safety of the public (if clinical data are falsified, for example)
  • Damage to public trust in science and scientifically grounded policy
  • Erosion of public support for financial investments in science
  • Damage to the reputations and, often, the careers of the individuals involved in research misconduct
  • Damage to the institution in which the scientific misconduct occurred

As social scientists, we might be inclined to think that research ethics involves the ethical issues involved in protecting human (and animal) subjects. In fact, ethical issues can arise in many different domains of the research enterprise, including: 

  • Data acquisition, management, & sharing
  • Conflicts of interest and commitment
  • Authorship
  • Publication and peer review
  • Collaboration and mentoring
  • Research misconduct
  • Whistle-blowing and dispute resolution

Given the serious harm that can result from research misconduct and the many different domains in which it can occur, federal agencies and universities have issued calls for increased education in responsible research conduct. The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently implemented a requirement that all students (undergraduate and graduate) and postdoctoral fellows who receive funding from NSF grants funded after January 4, 2010 receive training in the responsible conduct of research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has similar requirements for students who receive support from individual and institutional training grants. 

UCI fully supports the mission of increasing education and mentorship in the responsible research conduct, and it is developing an implementation plan to achieve that goal and to comply with federal agency requirements.  Toward that end, UCI has developed an online tutorial that will help to satisfy the RCR training requirement specified for students in particular courses or students supported by NSF and NIH awards. The online RCR tutorial can be accessed via the UCI Learning Center, after logging in and entering "rcr" in the search box. Completion requires approximately two hours.  You can obtain a certificate of completion by following the steps listed on the FAQs page (see "How do I see and get a certificate for courses I have completed?").  More information about UCI’s plans to promote training in the responsible conduct of research can be found at the Office of Research Administration website.


Additional Resources:

Selected Publications:

Barnbaum, D. R., &  Byron, M. (2001).  Research ethics: Text and readings. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Goodman, A. (2006). Intuition. New York: Random House. (A fictional portrayal of a case involving potential scientific misconduct and whistle-blowing in a biomedical laboratory.)

Macrina, F. L (2005).  Scientific integrity: Text and cases in responsible conduct of research. Washington, DC: American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Press.


National Academies of Science (2009): On being a scientist: Responsible conduct in research.  Washington, DC: Author.  (The third edition of this book is available online at no cost; see download free pdf)

Shamoo , A. E., & Resnik, D. B. (2002).  Responsible conduct of research. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Steneck, N. H.& Zinn, D. (2004). ORI Introduction to the responsible conduct of research.  Washington, DC: Office of Research Integrity.


Selected Websites:
NIH Office of Research Integrity

Responsible Conduct of Research Education Consortium

Scientific Integrity Website

Ethical Dilemmas in Research Integrity Website

National Academy of Enginering Online Ethics Center

Columbia University Training in the Responsible Conduct of Research

Indiana University Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics -- see link to TRE resources

UC San Diego Research Ethics Program

Resources for Research Ethics Education

The Lab: Avoiding Research Misconduct -- Interactive movie on research misconduct