While research is based on the pillars of innovation, trust, and transparency, it also requires scientists and academics to abide by certain ethical considerations in research. The world is increasingly dependent on the scientific community to come up with solutions to global problems. When inaccurate or plagiarised results are published, only to be retracted later, it leads not only to wasted time and resources, but also threatens the precious trust that people have in the scientific process and scholarly publishing. Therefore, it is important for researchers to understand and abide by these ethical considerations in research not only when conducting experiments but also when publishing the results.
The National Research Council of the National Academies defines ethics and integrity in research as a series of good practices, which include among other aspects, intellectual honesty in performing and reporting research, fairness in peer reviews, transparency in communication, collegiality in scientific interactions, and protection and care of human and animal subjects during research.1 To put it simply, ethical considerations in research refers to a code of conduct that must be followed when planning, conducting, and reporting research.
Despite these ethical considerations in research, many researchers are left grappling with ethical dilemmas and many face journal rejection, retractions, loss of employment, and other penalties because they lack or did not completely adhere to the mandated guidelines. To make it simpler for you, we’ve put together key ethical considerations in research every author should know about.
Plagiarism and duplication of others’ work
Avoiding plagiarism is one of the basic ethical considerations in research. Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work as your own without acknowledging them, which is unacceptable in scientific research. This unauthorised use is akin to stealing ideas, thoughts, or words and using them for your benefit.
However, all research is built on previously published work and many researchers end up relying too much on the work of others. Violations of this ethical consideration in research may happen due to a lack of experience or skill, forgetting to correctly cite a source or not understanding what constitutes plagiarism. Regardless of the reason, plagiarism is considered a serious ethical violation making it imperative for researchers to understand this key ethical consideration in research and take care to avoid unintentional or self-plagiarism in their work. You can do this by acknowledging people who have contributed to your research, properly citing all sources used in the research paper, and avoiding a direct copy-paste of text from other sources.
Fabrication and falsification of data or results
Conducting and reporting research methods, data, and results honestly is at the very top of the list of ethical considerations in research. Fabrication is making up data or results, while falsification is manipulating or altering data or results, both of which are seen as major ethical violations. As a researcher, you need to steer clear of the temptation to make up data, exaggerate findings, and mislead readers with vague or contradictory explanations.
It is always better to be honest and state all aspects of your research and its results accurately instead of over-exaggerating findings and being found out. If found guilty of violating this ethical consideration in research, you risk being heavily penalized, being suspended or expelled, face rejection, or be forced to retract your paper, all of which will impact your credibility as a researcher. Take time to review your work carefully so that you can identify and eliminate even inadvertent errors in data presentation. It may be a good idea to keep a full record of your research, so that you can go back to check on certain sections if so required.
Conflicts of interest and potential for bias
Conflicts of interest occur when competing financial obligations, personal values and stands, or professional interests compromise a researcher’s ability to be objective. While conflicts of interest are not a major ethical consideration in research and scholarly publishing, not recognizing or declaring them is seen as unethical. It is critical for researchers to identify and disclose any and all potential conflicts of interest when submitting their manuscript for publication.
Ethical considerations in research require researchers to keep aside personal biases and conduct research in an objective manner without letting your own views or cultural perspectives seep into the research study. Stay vigilant and avoid any kind of discrimination and focus instead on the scientific competence and integrity of people involved in research. It may help to discuss your study with peers or have your supervisor review your research plan and data to see if they can identify any possible bias.
Ethical approvals, informed consent, privacy, and confidentiality
Before you start any study involving people or animals, make sure you meet the ethical considerations in research methodology along with the requisite approvals from respective review boards. It is important to respect the rights of the subjects with regards to informed consent, privacy, and confidentiality. Create detailed and well-designed research plans, taking help from your mentor or supervisor if needed, that reduce harm to the subjects and maximize benefits both for the participants and those conducting the research. Similarly, researchers working with animals must get the necessary permissions and make sure they are properly cared for.
Duplicate submissions and salami slicing
One of the key ethical considerations in research is ensuring the manuscripts you submit to journals are original and have not been published before or submitted elsewhere. Researchers who intentionally submit a paper to multiple journals are seen as breaching the basic standards and ethical considerations in research. In fact, authors are required to disclose details of related or similar papers at the time manuscript submission. This holds true even of the paper is in another language or has been published only in a particular region.
Similarly, researchers must avoid “slicing” their manuscript into segments for publication in different journals to boost their publication output as it is considered unethical. As a rule, if the “slices” of study share the same aim, methodology, and study group it must be submitted as a single manuscript and should never be broken down or published separately.
Understanding and following these ethical considerations in research goes a long way in ensuring that your work earns the trust and support of your peers, supervisors, and the wider community.
- Integrity in Scientific Research: Creating an Environment That Promotes Responsible Conduct, Institute of Medicine National Research Council of the National Academics, 2002. https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/10430/integrity-in-scientific-research-creating-an-environment-that-promotes-responsible