fundamental constituents of matter—new knowledge speaks to our sense of wonder and paves the way for future advances.
By considering all these obligations—toward other researchers, toward oneself, and toward the public—a researcher is more likely to make responsible choices. When beginning researchers are learning these obligations and standards of science, the advising and mentoring of more-experienced scientists is essential.
Terminology: Values, Standards, and Practices
Research is based on the same ethical values that apply in everyday life, including honesty, fairness, objectivity, openness, trustworthiness, and respect for others.
A “scientific standard” refers to the application of these values in the context of research. Examples are openness in sharing research materials, fairness in reviewing grant proposals, respect for one’s colleagues and students, and honesty in reporting research results.
The most serious violations of standards have come to be known as “scientific misconduct.” The U.S. government defines misconduct as “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism (FFP) in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.” All research institutions that receive federal funds must have policies and procedures in place to investigate and report research misconduct, and anyone who is aware of a potential act of misconduct must follow these policies and procedures.
Scientists who violate standards other than FFP are said to engage in “questionable research practices.” Scientists and their institutions should act to discourage questionable research practices (QRPs) through a broad range of formal and informal methods in the research environment. They should also accept responsibility for determining which questionable research practices are serious enough to warrant institutional penalties.
Standards apply throughout the research enterprise, but “scientific practices” can vary among disciplines or laboratories. Understanding both the underlying standards and the differing practices in research is important to working successfully with others.