ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 1. Rules of the Road
As important as rules of the road are for the responsible conduct of research, they have two important limitations.
First, rules generally set minimum standards for behavior rather than strive for the ideal. The rules say that you can drive at 65 miles per hour over a stretch of road, but there may be times or circumstances when 55 would be better. If you use human subjects in research, you must follow specific rules, but there may be situations in which you should strive for a higher standard of conduct. Responsible research requires more than simply following rules.
Second, rules will not resolve some of the personal conflicts and moral dilemmas that arise in research. Journals have rules against listing undeserving authors on papers (individuals who have not made significant contributions to the research described in the paper). These same rules do not tell you what to do if the undeserving author can have a significant influence on your career. Rules also cannot replace the critical reasoning skills needed to assess ethically controversial human or animal experiments or conflicts of interest. Researchers will face ethical dilemmas in research. They should be able to recognize these dilemmas and know how to resolve them (discussed in Chapter 11).
The rules of the road for research therefore need to be supplemented with good judgment and a strong sense of personal integrity. When meeting deadlines, you can cut corners by filling in a few missing data points without actually running the experiments or adding a few references to your notes that you have not read. You can resist sharing data with colleagues or leave some information on method out of a publication to slow down the competition. You can ignore your responsibilities to students or a mentor in order to get your own work done. You can do all of these things and more, but should you?
In the final analysis, whatever decision you make when you confront a difficult decision about responsibility in research, you are the one who has to live with the consequences of that decision. If you are uncertain whether a particular course of action is responsible, subject it to one simple test. Imagine what you are preparing to do will be reported the next day on the front page of your local newspaper. If you are comfortable having colleagues, friends, and family know what you did, chances are you acted responsibly, provided, of course, you also understand your responsibilities as a researcher, as described in the rules of the road covered in the rest of the ORI Introduction to RCR.