Following up on the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity in Singapore this past July, a group of researchers and policy makers has posted today a statement meant to serve as a global guide for research conduct. The statement includes 14 short paragraphs offering guidance for maintaining honesty, accountability, professional courtesy and fairness.
Included are directives on conflicts of interest, acknowledging authors on papers, social responsibility and distinguishing between personal opinion and professional expertise when commenting in the public.
The Singapore statement, as it’s called, is not a regulatory document, but rather more of a framework for the global research community including governments, associations and institutions to build from. It goes far beyond the three main offenses that typically define research misconduct – plagiarism, falsification and fabrication. But it offers no guidance on the consequences for breaking rank. Nicholas Steneck, a historian of science at the University of Michigan and chair of the 2nd world conference says that by necessity, enforcement is a professional issue. It must be decided on by researchers, institutions and governments.
The Singapore statement could nevertheless help to fill a void for scientific research says Steneck. Whereas other professions have codes of conduct to which all members subscribe, like the Hippocratic oath for medical care or the Nuremberg code for human research ethics, there are no similar guidlines for the sciences. “There had been numerous attempts to build a broad code for research. They’ve all kind of faltered for one reason or another,” says Steneck, mostly because they were driven by some timely agenda, such as the threat of nuclear war.
With many reports of misconduct in the news as of late, the Singapore statement is no less timely. Steneck says he hopes it will help broaden the view of the kinds of behaviour that can damage scientific integrity. “Authorship, credit, responsible, citations, stealing of ideas. This has been demonstrated to interfere with data sharing. That slows down the scientific enterprise. That’s a real impact.”
By Brendan Maher with additional reporting by Richard Van Noorden