Research Council funding
If your research has UK Research Council funding, then you must comply with (a) the Research Councils UK Code of Conduct, and (b) the ethics code or requirements of the funding body.
The RCUK Code of Conduct
The RCUK Code of Conduct sets out principles of good practice for research, including research ethics. In large part, it is focused on the responsibilities of research organisations that receive Research Council funding, which are required to meet the standards set out in the Code. They should have published procedures for the normal supervision and management of research conduct, integrity and ethical issues, and for the reporting by individuals of any concerns about poor practice in these areas.
The Code of Conduct is concerned with research integrity, and embedding the highest standards of good practice within an organisation. This is seen as both an individual and an organisational responsibility. The Code emphasises the responsibility of the researcher to ensure that (s)he ‘has always met the highest standards that could reasonably be expected’ (RCUK 2009, p3).
The Code defines the following areas of unacceptable research conduct:
- Fabrication: Including the creation of false data or other aspects of research, including documentation and participant consent.
- Falsification: Including the inappropriate manipulation and/or selection of data, imagery and/or consents.
- Plagiarism: This includes the general misappropriation or use of others’ ideas, intellectual property or work (written or otherwise), without acknowledgement or permission.
- Misrepresentation: This relates to misrepresentation of data and thus includes dissemination activities (e.g. suppression or deliberate or negligent misrepresentation of findings and/or data), as well as issues such as inappropriate claims to authorship or denial of authorship.
- Mismanagement or inadequate preservation of data and/or primary materials: This including failure to keep clear and accurate records of the research procedures and results, as well as the requirement to make relevant primary data and research evidence accessible to others for ‘reasonable periods’ after the completion of the research. Guidance states that data should normally be preserved and accessible for ten years, but for projects of clinical or major social, environmental or heritage importance, for 20 years or longer, and that, wherever possible, data should be archived.
- Breach of duty of care: This requirement relates to a number of considerations, including:
- breaches of confidentiality;
- placing participants or ‘associated individuals’ in danger (including reputational danger) without their prior consent or without appropriate safeguards;
- a requirement to take ‘all reasonable care’ to ensure that ‘appropriate informed consent is obtained properly, explicitly and transparently’;
- legal and reasonable ethical requirements or obligations of care for animal subjects, human organs or tissue used in research, or for the protection of the environment; and
- improper conduct in peer review of research proposals or results (including manuscripts submitted for publication) – for example, failure to disclose conflicts of interest.
Research Councils guidance and requirements
Each of the Research Councils has its own stipulations regarding ethics and research governance, and – as with any funder – you should check their specific requirements. Links to each of the Research Council websites are below.
The extent to which the Councils emphasise research ethics, and set formal requirements, varies depending on their disciplinary foci:
- The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) publishes detailed guidance, setting out requirements for researchers and their organisations, in the Framework for Research Ethics .
- The Medical Research Council (MRC) has a variety of specific guidance on different aspects of research ethics and governance.
- The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) bases its expectations in relation to research ethics on the Research Council Funding Guidelines.
- The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council also follows the research ethics guidance set out in the Research Council Funding Guidelines.
- The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) includes an ‘ethical and social concerns form ’ as part of its application process, and explicitly includes ethics scrutiny in its process of scientific review, and states that funding will not be released until ethics concerns have been resolved.
- The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has a published policy on research ethics.
- The Science and Technology Facilities Council has published a Research Grants Handbook which addresses research ethics and governance.