Notes: Research Ethics for Librarians

Here are my notes on a talk given by Rhys Morgan (Research Governance & Integrity Officer, University of Cambridge).

Research ethics (RE) are important as they:

  • Deal with the design and conduct of the research to be undertaken
  • Aim to protect the researcher
  • Cover issues of integrity throughout the research process and beyond (including the dissemination and publication of the research)

The core rules were set out by the 1949 Nuremburg Code and later superseded by the 1964 Helsinki Code. Obviously these parameters are constantly being updated.

In the UK we abide by the UUK Concordat to Support Researcher Integrity – an umbrella list of correct practices.

Here in Cambridge, there are individual departmental policies on RE and they all fall under the bracket of University policy.

The aim of these policies is to judge acceptability of the proposed research to be undertaken.

“Research” is a loose term and does not cover such things as “Service Review”. The differentiation between the two is often a blurred line.

As a rule, if the research involves humans, animals or personal data then a process of ethical review is required.

Research must be transparent and not include practices such as:

  • Coercion (including incentives as well as penalties for non-compliance)
  • Discrimination
  • Misconduct (including plagiarism, falsification or fabrication of data)

Research must prove itself using a sliding scale of benefit versus risk. Does the benefit outweigh the risk? Is it ethically viable?

Ethics panels will consider each project and either approve, demand change or reject.

Before beginning a joint research project it is important to consider authorship before any data is gathered. Who will be the first named author? Who will be a named contributor?

On publication it is important to consider the implication of publishing via Open Access (OA). The data will be much more available so other researchers will benefit globally and the data-gatherers will be far less likely to practice misconduct – GOOD THINGS! However, as the data will be freely available, due consideration must be given to the extra risk of having Open Data. Does it need amending? Anonymization is probably essential.

Researchers should also be aware of predatory OA publishing (an exploitative business model where journals practice the dark arts of demanding such things as Article Processing Charges (APC’s) be paid by the author and offering poor or non-existent peer review in return. See Beall’s List Of Predatory Publishers  for details.



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