On February 11, the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) released its new guide on research ethics called “Doing Global Science: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in the Global Research Enterprise”.
Doing Global Science aims to help researchers from across the globe avoid ethical issues that could limit the reach of their research. The guide covers every part of the research process starting with the planning and preparing phase all the way to communicating the outcome with the public. Along the way, it discusses falsification, plagiarism and even informed consent in research projects.
Based on a 2012 report by the InterAcademy Council and the IAP entitled “Responsible Conduct in the Global Research Enterprise: A Policy Report”, Doing Global Science attempts to be a broad look at the universal values found in good research. Because of that, it’s more of an overview of various ethical issues with a relevant examples than a set of rules or guidelines to be followed.
But despite its limitations, the report is still being widely celebrated as a great tool for researchers, especially at institutions limited support or counseling on research ethics.
This is due, in large part, to the IAP itself and how it operates.
The IAP is an international network of 111 science academies from around the world, this includes, for example, The US National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada and The Royal Society in the UK.
It’s this international focus that has created much of the excitement about this guide. The IAP is one of the few truly international academic organizations that can publish such a guide and have it implemented worldwide. Though their recommendations aren’t binding, they offer a uniform set of standards that every researcher in every country should be able to follow and reference.
Because of that, interest in Doing Global Science is highest in countries such as India, where some institutions do not have complete ethical guidelines of their own. There, it’s being suggested that the core tenets of the guide be condensed to a 2-3 page version that can be easily distributed to researchers in need of help.
However, it’s important to remember that this book is just a guide and nothing more. Nicholas H Steneck, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Michigan summarized this best in Science Magazine when he said that, while he can see the use for the book, it “leaves a great deal of room for interpretation and individual motivation.” He goes on to say that Doing Global Science provides little in the way of firm rules and how those who read it will still depend heavily on peers and superiors for guidance in specific situations.
Despite its limitations, Doing Global Science is still a significant step forward. One of the great challenges that has faced researchers with international collaboration has been finding common ground on issues of ethics. This book helps to do just that.
While it may not provide the specific rules, it provides the talking points and a place to start the conversation. This can give researchers, regardless of country or culture, a touchstone to talk from when discussing ethics issues in research and when working on their own projects.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of iThenticate.