Loyalty and responsibilities to an employer
Each researcher is a part of a social context in which consideration for and cooperation with an employer and co-workers are important. The fundamental rule in working life is that the employee is expected to be loyal concerning the employer's goal and working method as long as it does not conflict with law and good practice. For the researcher, however, yet another loyalty is required: that to science's norms and ideals. Some often-named cornerstones of researchers' ethics, regardless of area, are those mentioned in Robert Merton's CUDOS norms (1942), which address (among other things) universalism, altruism and organized scepticism as characteristics of good research. On the other hand, it is naturally a great advantage if a scientific result is of benefit to society at large.
As this website so clearly shows, science has highly placed ethical ideals. It thus often happens that researchers sound an alarm when an employer or co-worker conducts him/herself in an unethical way. The reporting researcher is then called a whistleblower. The basis for the right to sound an alarm is every citizen's yttrandefrihet (freedom of speech) as well as freedom for informants according to tryckfrihetsförordningens 1 kap § 1,3 (Freedom of the Press Act's Chapter 1, Par. 1.3): "It shall be for each and every person free /.../ to communicate information and intelligence on any subject whatsoever to make public in printed publications to authors, publishers, editors or companies for the professional communication of news or other messages to periodical publications". The individual's right to publish information is meanwhile not absolute, as the police have the right to ask questions when investigating a crime.
In the US, the Office of Research Integrity has published a "Sample Policy for Responding to Allegations of Scientific Misconduct" and "Guidelines for Institutions and Whistleblowers". Codes of various professions or scientific fields often have a section addressing whistleblowing. For example, the IEEE (an organisation for engineers) has the "Guidelines for Engineers Dissenting on Ethical Grounds". For more information, see professional codes.
Conflicts of interest
The majority of rules, laws, etc. collected on this website pertain primarily to public research work. According to the Swedish law on public employment (Lagen om offentlig anställning), an employee cannot take on an assignment or perform an activity which might displace the trust in his or her integrity, or hurt the reputation of one's authority. Unfortunately, in some countries there is increasingly a wish from public employers for means to control how science is presented. In Canada for example, a policy stipulates that publicly funded scientists must get pre-approval from their minister's office before speaking to journlists. In Australia, one scientist decided to emigrate, when the public funders refused to publish results that didn't conform with the government's policy on climate change.
When a researcher is instead employed partly or only by a private and commercial company, an ethical dilemma can arise between, for example, the demands for openness and cooperation that the research community normally advocates and the employer's demand for loyalty to the company's interests. It is also of great importance that trust in researchers' work, objectivity and integrity is maintained. The major Swedish guideline defining good practice is "Etiska riktlinjer för hantering av externa forskningsbidrag vid svenska universitet och högskolor" from The Association of Swedish Higher Education, SUHF. In the area of medicine, Sweden's association of physicians has formulated the "Uppdrag för läkemedelsindustrin: Etiska regler" (mandate for the pharmaceutical industry: ethical rules). Also of notice is the agreement between The Swedish Medical association and The Swedish Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry, "Överenskommelsen mellan Sveriges läkarförbund och Läkemedelsindustriföreningen, LIF". There is also a document on "Hantering av jäv, bindningar och andra intressekonflikter när externa sakkunniga och experter anlitas" (Handling challenges, commitments and conflicts of interest when external experts are engaged), by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Board, the Medical Products Agency, SBU and the National Board of Health and Welfare. It comes with a jävsdeklaration (a declaration of commitments). And last, the Ministry of Finance and The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR), have issued a booklet "On Bribes and commitments".
How should companies behave? For multinational companies, OECD has formulated the "Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises", in which questions regarding topics such as regard for the environment, work relationships, openness, unimpeachibility and economic development are addressed.
One cause of conflict between researchers and employers/clients is when the researcher intends to move his/her activity to another site. Those who have paid for the research can assert that they have a right to the result or raw data that the researcher has at his/her disposal. For more information, see the page on ownership of research material and results.
Last updated: 2013-03-26