Though they come from different countries and cultures, researchers worldwide should take responsibility for the trustworthiness of their work and recognize ethical obligations to society, says a new statement from the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity, co-sponsored by AAAS.
The Singapore Statement on Research Integrity, released 22 September, lists 16 responsibilities for researchers. Scientists should disclose any conflicts of interest, give proper credit to their collaborators, and report irresponsible research practices, it says. The statement also urges research institutions and journals to develop procedures for responding to allegations of misconduct.
More than 300 delegates from 51 countries contributed to the succinct one-page statement. [See www.singaporestatement.org .] Although research regulations vary internationally, the delegates concluded that “there are also principles and professional responsibilities that are fundamental to the integrity of research wherever it is undertaken.”
Policymakers, university leaders, publishers, and government ministers first drafted the statement at the conference, held 21-24 July in Singapore. The conference was supported by science associations from China, Japan, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Australia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Mark S. Frankel, director of the AAAS Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program, and Gerald Epstein, director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy, gave presentations at the meeting. Senior Program Associate Deborah Runkle was a co-chair of the conference’s session on digital plagiarism.
Mark S. Frankel and Gerald Epstein
After the First World Conference on Research Integrity, held in 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal, the Singapore attendees sought a set of “international norms and standards related to research integrity that would accommodate national differences,” said Frankel.
The harmonization of these standards is part of a larger effort by AAAS to support the international integration of scientific values. Another example: In June, after three years of top-level discussion, the China Association for Science and Technology and AAAS established a joint steering committee to coordinate work on scientific ethics.
Seeking an international integrity agreement is one way to pursue harmonization, said Epstein. “Although many different groups have different conceptions of what a code of conduct should focus on,” he explained, “there isn’t any culture in which making up data is good.”
Epstein was pleased that the statement included an obligation to consider the societal benefits and risks of research. “There are those who think scientists have no business extrapolating the social context of their work,” he said, “but that’s not a view that I think the rest of society would be very comfortable with.”
Frankel said the recent “Climategate” controversy, fueled by e-mails hacked from United Kingdom researchers and a handful of errors discovered in the massive 4th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, demonstrated how public trust in science can be weakened by suspicions of irresponsible advocacy.
“It’s a problem for all scientists,” said Frankel. “When do scientists cross the line from being an independent source of valued information to designing or using their research to support some preconceived policy preference?”
The Singapore Statement can guide governments, research institutions, and professional societies as they develop their own integrity standards, he noted.
“At AAAS, we believe that high ethical standards go hand-in-hand with quality research,” Frankel said. “The freedom to do research cannot be separated from the ethical responsibilities that researchers have to the integrity of their research and the larger society that supports them.”