ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 1. Rules of the Road
Prior to World War II, society provided little public support for research and did not expect much from researchers in return. Researchers were more or less left alone to run their own affairs, except when they assumed other roles, as teachers, physicians, or engineers.
As professionals, researchers have not been particularly concerned about rules for self-regulation. Since the goal of research is to advance knowledge through critical inquiry and scientific experimentation, it has commonly been assumed that the normal checking that goes on in testing new ideas is sufficient to keep researchers honest. Based on this assumption, research arguably does not need specific rules for self-regulation because it is, by definition, an activity that routinely monitors itself.
The lack of a perceived need for specific rules poses problems for researchers who want guidance on responsible research practices. Intellectually and professionally researchers organize their lives around fields of study. They are biologists, chemists, and physicists, increasingly working in specialized areas, such as biophysics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and so on. However, the societies that represent fields of study for the most part have not developed comprehensive guidelines for responsible research practices. Many do have codes of ethics, but most codes of ethics are simply general statements about ideals and do not contain the specific guidance researchers need to work responsibly in complex research settings.
Fortunately, there are a few important exceptions to this last generalization. Comprehensive descriptions of responsible research practices can be found in (see the resources listed at the end of this chapter for references):
- reports and policy statements issued by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and Sigma Xi;
- guidance on responsible publication practices published in journals; and
- a few comprehensive professional codes.
When applicable, the guidance provided by professional societies is a good place to begin learning about responsible research practices.