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Professional Ethics

En forskares etik

A researcher's work is regulated by varyingly binding rules and regulations. Nevertheless it could be said that the researcher's own ethical responsibility forms the basis for all research ethics. That is, the researcher him/herself has the ultimate responsibility to see that the research is of good quality and is morally acceptable. As noted by the latest state investigation on research ethics, ethical reflection must be a natural part of a researcher's daily routine (SOU 1999:4). all research should be conducted by individuals who are endowed with the necessary literacy in ethics ("Ethics education in science", ALLEA). The researcher also has a professional work ethic to consider.

Three meanings of professional ethics

Firstly, the research activity is driven by a number of implicit and explicit norms that dictate what good science is (performing good work). Thus it is stated in, for example, the Helsinki Declaration (a code concerning medical issues) that research on humans is to be in accord with proper scientific practice and that the researcher is to be familiar with the scientific literature. As regards scientific research in general, many often-mentioned basic underpinnings of researchers' ethics, regardless of field, are expressed in Robert Merton's CUDOS norms (1942), which name (among other issues) universality, altruism, and organized skepticism as distinguishing characteristics of good research.

Secondly, researchers, like all other professionals, must follow national and local rules, directions and norms regarding workplace conduct when it comes to issues such as discrimination, harassment and humilation as well as the possibility to accept gifts from patients or industry (behaving correctly with colleagues and the public). Researchers at state universities should accordingly respect the common basic values for state employees (den gemensamma värdegrunden för de statsanställda).

Thirdly, various researcher categories often have their own professional codes of ethics that address various aspects of the researcher role and activity. Often-used central concepts for professional practice are serving mankind and having respect for human life.

A recent list of responsibilities is the European Commission's European Charter for Researchers. The Association of Higher Swedish Education has decided to sign this charter and the various universities and colleges are expected to follow. The International Council for Science has in a recent booklet described the values inherent in science and what consequences should follow from them: "Freedom, Responsibility and Universality of Science." A good example of a value-based code is the Czech "Code of Ethics for Researchers" (click on english flag).

Research ethics as a reaction against misconduct

The advancement of research ethics was largely a reaction to experiences and reports of dangerous research on humans. More recently, increased attention has been directed toward research misconduct, that is, the fabrication, falsification and plagiary of scientific data and results. The researcher must always be sure to follow what could be called good research and documentation practices. The research ethics investigation defined fraud as a researcher "deliberately and in a deceptive way departing from the scientific demands or consciously breaking with generally accepted norms".

Appeals and codes

Within research ethics, it has also become customary for the researchers themselves, through appeals and codes, to attempt to convince one another to take positions for and against various research fields and methods. Naturally, associating oneself with a certain ethical code is completely voluntary and is not binding. You can read a compilation of such appeals and codes here. Some researchers believe that one always should apply a precautionary principle to such research that "raises threats of harm to the environment or human health ... even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically", see the "Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle." See also "Recommendation 1787 (2007) on the precautionary principle and responsible risk management", from the Council of Europe.

A global ethics for researchers

At present, there is a renewed trend of efforts to create global ethical norms. Many appeals are universal. Institutions such as the Global Forum on Bioethics in Research and Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee have been created. The InterAction Council (with "A Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities") and the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) (with a "Universal declaration on the human genome and human rights") have reached for the kind of support that has been given earlier UN statements. Through the IBC, UNESCO now has created a "Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights".

Last updated: 2017-11-02

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CODEX, Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics, BMC, Husarg. 3, Uppsala | Webmaster | About the web site