The ethical issues presented here are those that are the most commonly and widely accepted in research in academia and the research community today. This document does not aim to tell you what to do in all circumstances but gives you definitions of these ethical issues and suggests how you may go about identifying them in practice in order to act in an ethical manner.
The ethical issues in research may be violated in different ways:
Research with animals
Research with human subjects
Research with animals
Animals play a significant role in research. They are used in a variety of ways by researchers, such as for testing new pharmaceuticals, as teaching tools for medical students, and as experimental subjects for new surgical procedures. Research with animals is necessary and vital to biomedical research because animal research is frequently a necessary first step toward research involving new medical treatments and pharmaceuticals intended for human use. In order to prevent the mistreatment of animals the United States government first passed the Animal Welfare Act in 1966 (last revised in 1990).
Research with human subjects
Respect for Persons- Informed Consent: Informed consent exists to ensure that all research involving human subjects allows for voluntary participation by subjects who understand what participation entails. Informed consent means that people approached and asked to participate in a research study must: a) know what they are getting involved with before they commit; b) not be coerced or manipulated in any way to participate; and, c) must consent to participate in the project as a subject.
Respect for Persons- Privacy and confidentiality: Privacy and confidentiality are very important components for research involving human subjects. People have a right to protect themselves, and information gathered during research participation could harm a person by violating their right to keep information about themselves private. The information gathered from people in biomedical studies has a unique potential to be particularly embarrassing, harmful, or damaging.
The three issues for data management (ethical and truthful data collection, responsibility of collected data, and data sharing) can be addressed by researchers before and during the establishment of a new research project. Ethical data collection refers to collecting data in a way that does not harm or injure someone. Harm and injury could range from outright physical injury to harmful disclosure of unprotected confidential health information. In comparison, truthful data collection refers to data that, once collected, are not manipulated or altered in any way that might impact or falsely influence results. Assigning and ensuring responsibility for collecting and maintaining data is one of the most important ethical considerations when conducting a research project.
Research fraud is publishing data or conclusions that were not generated by experiments or observations but by invention or data manipulation. There are two kinds in research and scientific publishing:
Fabrication: Making up research data and results, and recording or reporting them.4
Falsification: Manipulating research materials, images, data, equipment, or processes. Falsification includes changing or omitting data or results in such a way that the research is not accurately represented.4A person might falsify data to make it fit with the desired end result of a study.
Guest authorship /Co-authorship
All individuals who made significant scientific contributions to the research work should be given the opportunity to be included as co-authors. Other persons who contributed to the study should be acknowledged, but need not be identified as coauthors. Every coauthor should be aware of the content of an article to be submitted, agree to its submission, and share appropriate responsibility for the work. Any individual unable to take appropriate responsibility for the article should not be included as a co-author.
Authorship is the process of deciding whose names belong on a research paper. In many cases, research evolves from collaboration and assistance between experts and colleagues. Some of this assistance will require acknowledgement and some will require joint authorship. Each person listed as an author of an article should have significantly contributed to both the research and writing. In addition, all listed authors must be prepared to accept full responsibility for the content of the research article.
Plagiarism and self-plagiarism
Authors should not use, without attribution, text, concepts, data, figures, or tables from another work published either by others or by themselves. Plagiarism of others’ works and self-plagiarism are serious breaches of ethics and are not tolerated. If a direct quotation is appropriate, the original source should be properly cited. Figures, tables, and other images reproduced from another source normally require the publisher’s permission.
Conflict of interest
Any potential conflicts of interest (e.g., employment, stock ownership, patent licenses, etc.) should be reported to the editorial office. These include personal, academic, political, financial, and commercial gains.
Duplicate or multiple submission is the most common ethics violation encountered. It is unethical for authors to publish articles describing essentially the same research result in more than one journal. It is also unacceptable for authors to submit the same manuscript concurrently to more than one journal.
The two most important ethical concepts in the peer review process are confidentiality and the protection of intellectual property. Reviewers should not know the author (or authors) they are reviewing, and the author (or authors) should not be told the names of the reviewers. Only by maintaining strict confidentiality guidelines can the peer review process be truly open and beneficial. Likewise, no person involved in the peer review process – either the editor, reviewers, or other journal staff – can publicly disclose the information in the article or use the information in a submitted article for personal gain.
Duplicate publication, or self-plagiarism, is defined as “the publication of an article that is identical or overlaps substantially with an article already published elsewhere, with or without acknowledgment (Benos et al., 2005, p. 63).
The redundant or repetitive publication is defined as “the publication of copyrighted material with additional new or unpublished data” (Benos, 2005, p. 63).
Salami publication/Salami slicing
The “slicing” of research that would form one meaningful paper into several different papers is called “salami publication” or “salami slicing”.1 Unlike duplicate publication, which involves reporting the exact same data in two or more publications, salami slicing involves breaking up or segmenting a large study into two or more publications. These segments are referred to as “slices” of a study.2 As a general rule, as long as the “slices” of a broken-up study share the same hypotheses, population, and methods, this is not acceptable practice. The same “slice” should never be published more than once.3
1. Abraham P (2000). Duplicate and salami publications. Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, 46: 67.
2. Office of Research Integrity. Salami Slicing (i.e., data fragmentation). Available at: ori.hhs.gov/plagiarism-16. Accessed on September 21, 2012.
3. Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) (2005). Cases: Salami publication. Available at: publicationethics.org/case/salamipublication.Accessed on August 26, 2012.
4. Benos, D. J., Fabres, J., Farmer, J. Guterrez, J. P., Hennessy, K., Kosek, D., Lee, J. H., Olteanu, D. Russell, T., Shakh, F., & Wang, K. (2005). Ethics and scientific publication. Advances in Physiology Education, 29, 59-74.