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Responsible Conduct of Research


The responsible conduct of research (RCR) is one of two major components of research ethics. The essence of the concept is that RCR is central to the practice of science: " [T]he responsible conduct of research is not distinct from research; on the contrary, competency in research encompasses the responsible conduct of that research and the capacity for ethical decision making" (Institute of Medicine 2002, p. 9). The emphasis is on professional responsibilities and the extent to which the scientific research community and its members, as a profession, determine, recognize, and adhere to professional standards and values (Carr-Saunders and Wilson 1933). RCR assumes that: (1) there are identifiable, shared standards of practice and behavior that can and should be made explicit; (2) these standards are, consciously or unconsciously, acknowledged by members of the community; and (3) they are standards that research supervisors are expected to instill in trainees.


The term RCR is closely related to that of research integrity, which it tended to replace as a term of art in the 1990s. It is probably derived from the 1989 Institute of Medicine document Responsible Conduct of Research in the Health Sciences (1989) and the concept is further reinforced and reflected in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) requirement that pre- and post-doctoral trainees funded by the NIH receive some formal education in the proper conduct and reporting of research (NIH 1989). However its roots no doubt date from the 1980s when various professional scientific societies, including, for example, the American Chemical Society and Sigma Xi, developed and promulgated codes of conduct for their members (Sigma Xi 1984, Jorgensen 1995, Johnson 1999). In the 1990s the NIH requirement is credited with motivating the biomedical research community to develop educational programs to formalize and make explicit to trainees the expectations of the scientific community with regard to the procedures and processes involved in carrying out and publicizing the results of scientific investigation.

Although inherent in the notion of RCR is professional competence and integrity, education and training in RCR includes many other aspects of scientific research practice. Common usage of the term RCR is a bit of a misnomer because, in point of fact, it includes a wide range of elements beyond the conduct of research that are fundamental to the practice of scientific research. It encompasses not only the experimental process itself, but also closely associated processes such as the dissemination of research findings, the implications of competition among colleagues and its potential impact on the evaluation of research results, and the training of future scientists. As the leading agency emphasizing the importance of education in RCR, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in the Office of Public Health and Science in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has identified elements central to research practice and appropriate for explicit discussion in the context of RCR (Office of Research Integrity 2005). These topics are:

  • data acquisition, management, sharing, and ownership;
  • humane treatment of research subjects including both humans and laboratory or other non-human animals;
  • allegations of research misconduct;
  • recognition of, and management or elimination of, conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment;
  • the mentor/trainee relationship and associated responsibilities;
  • publication practices and the responsibilities of authorship;
  • the peer review process;
  • the expectations of collaborators regarding the nature of collaborative research, appropriate recognition of contributions to the work, and the allocation of responsibility.


RCR, in contrast to most formulations of scientific misconduct and integrity, does not solely nor primarily focus on the more egregious and unacceptable practices of fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism (FFP). Instead the notion of RCR implies that there are less responsible, as well as irresponsible, practices. Put another way, there are a range of research practices from the preferred, through accepted but discouraged to prohibited practices. Serious deviation from accepted practices in carrying out research, or in reporting the results of research, may be considered unacceptable by some members of the scientific research community.

A major emphasis of RCR is education in the form of making explicit for both trainees and peers what is often implicit in research practice. However debate continues over how best to assess the efficacy of that education. This stems in part from a lack of consensus on the extent to which the goals of RCR education should include not only explicit understanding of the standards and values of the community and the expectations of both colleagues and society regarding professional behavior, but also training in ethical decision making (Institute of Medicine 2002).


SEE ALSO Misconduct in Science.


Carr-Saunders, Alexander P., and Wilson, P. A. (1933). The Professions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Institute of Medicine. (1989). Responsible Conduct of Research in the Health Sciences. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Institute of Medicine. (2002). Integrity in Scientific Research: Creating an Environment That Promotes Responsible Conduct. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Johnson, David. (1999). "From Denial to Action: Academic and Scientific Societies Grapple with Misconduct." In Perspectives on Scholarly Misconduct in the Sciences, ed. John
M. Braxton. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Jorgensen, Andrew. (1995). "Survey Shows Policies on Ethical Issues Still Lacking Enforcement Mechanisms." Professional Ethics Report 8(1): 1, 6.

National Institutes of Health (NIH). (1989). "Reminder and Update: Requirement for Programs on the Responsible Conduct of Research in National Research Service Award Institutional Training Programs." NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts 18.

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. (1984). Honor in Science. Research Triangle Park, NC: Author. 2nd edition, revised and enlarged, 1986.


Office of Research Integrity. Available from Web site of the organization.

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