ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 1. Rules of the Road
How should you conduct your research? What practices should you follow? The public and their professional colleagues expect researchers to follow many rules and commonly accepted practices as they go about their work advancing knowledge and putting knowledge to work. Responsible conduct in research is conduct that meets this expectation.
Society’s expectations for the responsible conduct of research are complex and not always well defined. Becoming a responsible researcher is not like becoming a responsible driver. Responsible driving is clearly defined through laws and written down in drivers’ manuals. Before individuals are allowed to drive, they are tested on both their knowledge of the rules of the road and their skills. Then, licensed drivers are constantly reminded of their responsibilities by signs, traffic signals, and road markings. They also know that their behavior as drivers is monitored and that there are specific penalties for improper behavior.
Guidance for the responsible conduct of research is not this well organized. Some responsible practices are defined through law and institutional policies that must be followed. Others are set out in non-binding codes and guidelines that should be followed. Still other responsible practices are commonly accepted by most researchers but not written down. Instead, they are transmitted informally through mentoring, based on the understandings and values of each mentor. This situation is further complicated by the fact that researchers are not routinely tested on their knowledge of responsible practices or licensed. Moreover, their behavior as researchers is inconsistently monitored and the penalties for irresponsible behavior vary considerably.
Researchers do, of course, care deeply about responsible behavior in research and pay a great deal of attention to best research practices. The fact remains, however, that it can take some effort to find out what these practices are and how to act when the complex rules for responsible practice seem to conflict with one another.
This chapter describes the four basic sources of rules of the road for the responsible conduct of research:
- professional codes,
- government regulations,
- institutional policies, and
- personal convictions.
If you are primarily interested in learning more about your responsibilities rather than understanding their origin, skip ahead to the substantive chapters that follow, returning to this chapter later, when it might have more relevance.
Setting off on the road to the responsible conduct of research