The nature of the research – the interests of participants and research subjects in research projects
Research ethics are not fixed – the principles of best practice and ethical theory develop over time, and as the scientific landscape evolves, the debate about research ethics also moves on. New principles and guidelines are formulated, and old ones are reinterpreted or applied in new ways.
In research that is conduced ethically a reasonable balance has to be struck between various interests and values, each of which seems to be legitimate. The quest for knowledge is one such interest. The integrity of the research subjects as well as protection against various forms of harm or risk of harm are other legitimate interests. The handling of integrity-sensitive material sometimes raises questions about the competing interests of the researcher, the study participants and other researchers, or about what a researcher is able to promise participants, and who owns research material.
Read more in the Swedish Research Council’s publication Good research practice.
The researcher’s conduct – personal ethics in the pursuit of research
In research that is conducted ethically the researchers need to maintain their professional integrity. The All European Academies (ALLEA) publication “The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity” states the fundamental principles on which good research practice is based. The principles are intended to give researchers guidance on practical, ethical and intellectual problems associated with research.
Reliability in safeguarding the quality of the research, which is reflected in the design, method, analysis and use of resources.
Honesty in developing, implementing and scrutinising research, and in reporting and informing others about research in an open, fair, complete and objective way.
Respect for colleagues, research participants, society, ecosystems, cultural heritage and the environment.
Accountability for research from idea to publication, for management and organisation, for education, supervision and mentorship, and for their wider consequences.
Scientific misconduct is often defined as fabrication, falsification or plagiarism (FFP). But there are also other forms of misconduct, such as self-plagiarism, withholding research results, abuse of a superior position and working without the necessary permits.
Departures from good research practice can result in misleading results, which in the end could lead to harm to humans, animals and the environment. Public trust in researchers and research may also be damaged.
How suspected scientific misconduct is handled
Swedish legislation (Lag (2019:504) om ansvar för god forskningssed och prövning av oredlighet i forskning) defines scientific misconduct as a serious deviation from good research practice in the form of fabrication, falsification or plagiarism, committed intentionally or through gross negligence during the planning, implementation or reporting of research. The law clarifies that researchers shall carry out research according to good research practice, and that the research principal has overall responsibility.
In the event of suspected scientific misconduct, a report must be made to the National Board for Assessment of Research Misconduct (NPOF). The report may be initiated in three different ways: by submission from a research principal, by sending it direct to the board, or at the board’s own initiative. If the board decides that a case does not relate to scientific misconduct, but does relate to other deviations from good research practice, then the board shall notify and hand over the documentation to the higher education institution (HEI) in question.
According to Swedish law (Högskoleförordning (1993:100), HEIs shall investigate and assess all cases of suspected deviations from good research practice, and may also initiate their own cases. The HEIs shall have implemented guidelines for their assessment of suspected deviations from good research practice. The Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF) has produced recommendations for how this assessment could be done.
What happens when scientific misconduct is found?
If the board decides that scientific misconduct has been found, the research principal shall report to the board, within six months after the decision was made, on the measures the principal has taken, or intends to take, as a result of the decision.
As soon as possible after the decision, the research principal shall inform research funding bodies, public agencies, scientific journals and others affected of the decision. The research principal shall also inform that the decision may be appealed.
The Swedish Research Council does not itself conduct any investigations into suspicion of scientific misconduct or deviations from good research practice. On the other hand, a decision by the board or an HEI may lead to us terminating the payment of a grant.