Ethical Challenges

9. Scientific Integrity


The most frequent allegations of unethical behavior received by federal officials involve authorship.  In some disciplines it is customary for senior investigators who run labs or departments but who have had little to do with the conduct of the research, to be listed as first or last author.  In other disciplines, such as psychology, that is considered unethical. Honorary authorship is not appropriate. Criteria for authorship are defined by disciplinary codes of ethics and by journals and require a substantive intellectual input to the research. Some journals, e.g. Science, require that authors specify their contribution and verify that they have read the paper and reviewed the data, that the report is accurate and that any and all interests are disclosed (Science, 2011;  International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, 2009; American Psychological Association, 2011).

Example 10

A doctoral student has completed her research and has written four manuscripts that she plans to submit to a top journal. She has acknowledged help from her advisor and research staff. She shares the manuscript with her mentor and department chair. Her mentor applauds the work, considers it important, and informs her that the department chair and he will co-author the papers. The student is appalled because the department chair has made no contribution to research. Her mentor provided guidance but did not contribute to the main ideas or methods. He did make facilities and equipment available and read earlier drafts of the papers. The student is concerned that if she does not acquiesce, her degree may be in jeopardy. If she does agree to co-authorship, she feels that she being unethical.
What should she do?

Issues surrounding authorship, acknowledgments, publication policies, disclosure of bias and interests and handling misconduct allegations are common to all kinds of research, regardless of methodology or content. When research involves large teams, publication committees with clear policies about these topics are the norm. Whatever the arrangements, they should be spelled out in advance and procedures to resolve conflicts need to be in place. Best practices can be identified by consulting institutional policies, professional societies’ ethical codes, and the uniform guidelines of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors Investigators should agree early in their research planning who does what and who will be authors.