Responsible Conduct of Research

In June 2018, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council published the second version of their Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, replacing the original 2007 edition.

Cover of Australian Code 2018

The 2018 issue of the code replaces the original 2007 version

This is an outstanding document that deserves a prominent role internationally in guiding the promotion and maintenance of ethical conduct in research. As the preamble notes, the Code seeks to spell out the “broad principles that characterise an honest, ethical and conscientious research culture” (p1).

The list of 8 principles, 13 responsibilities for institutions and 16 responsibilities for researchers are clearly articulated and readily transferable to other contexts.  Only a couple of items in the code, pertaining to the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are specifically “Australian”, and it might be argued that these only exemplify what ought to be good practice for engagement with any biogeographical community.

As noted above, the clarity of the contents is exemplary. Interested parties are therefore encouraged to read the original document (A copy of the Code is available via this link). For those with limited time, the top line of the 8 principles are:

  1. Honesty in the development, undertaking and reporting of research
  2. Rigour in the development, undertaking and reporting of research
  3. Transparency in declaring interests and reporting research methodology, data and findings
  4. Fairness in the treatment of others
  5. Respect for research participants, the wider community, animals and the environment
  6. Recognition of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be engaged in research that affects or is of particular significance to them
  7. Accountability for the development, undertaking and reporting of research
  8. Promotion of responsible research practices


How widespread is scientific misconduct?

From time to time examples of scientific fraud come to light and raise questions about the integrity of scientific endeavour. The most well-known example of recent years must surely be South Korean stem cell biologist Hwang Woo-Suk, whose ground-breaking discoveries in the field of therapeutic cloning were exposed as bogus (In addition to his science reputation being in tatters, Hwang was convicted in October 2009 of embezzlement and violation of bioethical laws, although he escaped a custodial sentence).

In physics, the multiple re-use of the same graphs as data for entirely different experiments led to the downfall of a leading young nanoscientist (this was the subject of a 2004 episode of the BBC’s Horizon series The dark secret of Hendrik Schön). Are Hwang and Schön rare examples bringing unwarranted criticism to a body of otherwise exemplary scientists, or are their crimes indicative of much wider malpractice within the scientific community?


University of Edinburgh researcher Daniele Fanelli has shed some light on the the extend of scientific fraud in an article How many scientists fabricate and falsify research? A systematic review and meta-analysis of survey data. Published in the open access journal PLoS ONE in May 2009, the research brought together data from a number of earlier smaller studies on scientific misconduct to generate “the first meta-analysis of these surveys” (p1).

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You know when you’ve been viper-ed

viper44A tweet this morning from @jon_scott alerted me to the fact that sometime over the weekend, the University of Leicester has been visited by the PR machine for the Viper service. Paving slabs had been stencilled with the company’s logo and web address. Rather ingeniously, the marketeers have jet-washed the image rather than painting it on, which I presume guards them against accusations of vandalism because all they’ve actually done is remove dirty (thanks to @jobadge for pointing this out, she is obviously more ‘direct action’ savvy than me). The image on the bumpy pavement at the traffic lights makes the wash v paint strategy most clearly.

viper55 viper33

Viper is marketing itself as a way for students to check that their work is not guilty of plagiarism. Several institutions have already wrestled with the question of whether to let students pre-submit their work to Turnitin so that they can see for themselves if it is going to get pinged by that software with the same intentions. However laudible this seems, one of the difficulties is the fact that students will simply learn how to mask their tracks rather than developing bona fide study skills. The subversive nature of the current marketing strategy reinforces the view that this is a way to “beat the system”. I was interested also that one of the recommendations for the software on the Tucows site seems to come from a student who bought a ‘bespoke’ essay for her course and was now asking for a refund as the software showed it was not quite the original work she thought she’d paid for!

Promoting the ethical conduct of science

Back in 2004, Sir David King (at the time, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser) initiated a discussion about generating a Code of Conduct for Scientists. The consultation process led, in 2006, to the publication of Rigour, respect and responsibility: a universal ethical code for scientists. None of the contents was particularly surprising or radical but it brought together in one place a list of seven key principles that ought to be foundational for the ethical conduct and communication of science.

The Code of Conduct emphasises seven key points

The Code of Conduct emphasises seven key points

The Code received a public launch at the BA Festival of Science in September 2007 and was reported in the general press at the time (see, for example, UK science head backs ethics code). During the intervening two years, conversations with scientist colleagues (across a range of institutions) have revealed almost universal ignorance about the existence of the Code, let alone its content. Continue reading

Helping students improve their referencing practice

Appropriate citation of source documents is a key element in all academic writing. As anyone involved in the teaching of undergraduates will know, however, suitable ways of organising reference lists, and conventions for highlighting within the new text the points at which the sources have been used, are not always intuitive.

Colleagues and students may therefore be interested in an online tutorial about referencing that has recently been launched at the University of Leicester.

The student reference guide is the latest online tutorial produced at Leicester

The student reference guide is the latest online tutorial produced at Leicester

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Preventing and Designing out Plagiarism

On 8th April 2008, the University of Leicester played host to conference organised by the Centre for Bioscience of the Higher Education Academy (Editorial note: apologies it took so long to get this post up – it was an excellent day conference so I hope you’ll find the material still relevant. More notes can be seen at the official Centre for Bioscience summary of the event).

Cooking the books?
First up was Fiona Duggan from the JISC Academic Integrity Service. Fiona started by highlighting recent discussion in the media about Delia Smith’s book How to cheat at cooking – is it really “cooking” to use frozen mash? Computer games have built in capacity to “cheat”. Are these symptomatic of a change in the acceptability of cheating in society?

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