Teaching Research Ethics: Knowledge

Knowledge about the responsible conduct of research would include the facts, guidelines, policies, data and other sources of information that answer “what” questions. Examples include:

  • Written rules and guidelines, including regulations for PHS-funded research and specific guidelines for specific practices.
  • Unwritten standards such as principles that guide opinions on unresolved ethical issues and standards of practices that make up RCR.
  • Processes for dealing with misconduct, such as procedures for investigating concerns, handling misconduct or perceptions of misconduct, or where to turn if misconduct has occurred.
  • Resources for making ethical decisions, e.g. where to access RCR regulations.

Mastroianni and Kahn (1998) described a core competency in RCR as “the achievement of a satisfactory level of proficiency in mastering a specified knowledge base or skill.” Additionally, they recommended that students gain “a fuller understanding of ethical issues that may arise in research careers.”

Among the core competencies that have been discussed are:

  • Knowledge of, and sensitivity to, issues surrounding the responsible conduct of research and research misconduct.
  • Appreciation for accepted, normative scientific practices for conducting research.
  • Awareness of the gray areas and ambiguities of ethical issues, including differences between compliant and ethical behavior in the conduct of research, or the range of acceptable and unacceptable practices.
  • Awareness that rules change over time and vary across disciplines or nations.
  • Information about the regulations, policies, statutes, and guidelines that govern the conduct of research in PHS funded institutions.
  • Resources for additional study on topics related to scientific integrity, responsible conduct of research, and research misconduct.

Although it is important that students learn the conventions and rules for appropriate research conduct, knowing the rules and conventions of science is not sufficient to ensure responsible research conduct (Bebeau et al, 1995). It is important, therefore, that students develop skills and habits that prepare them to effectively resolve ethical conflicts they may encounter in professional life.


Originally published 1999-2013 at Resources for Research Ethics Education, a web project directed by Michael Kalichman, Ph.D., and Dena Plemmons, Ph.D., from the University of California-San Diego Research Ethics Program and the San Diego Research Ethics Consortium. Republished with permission.


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