Tools and resources for safeguarding ethics and improving integrity in scientific research

Public confidence in science is fundamental. In recent years, a steady increase has been observed in problems related with scientific integrity and the reliability of scientific results, in part as a result of hypercompetitiveness and a lack of specific training. Research institutions and funding organisations from around the world are working to tackle these problems and improve research integrity.


1. Context

In recent years, the scientific community has begun to recognise, progressively, the crucial role that research culture – promoted from the institutions themselves – plays in maintaining scientific integrity. Universities, research centres and funding organisations have begun to analyse how to conduct processes of assessment, training, supervision and mentoring, collaboration, public participation, and data management and the publication of results. The aim behind all of this is to resolve possible structural dysfunctions and reform the bases that sustain them.

2. Debate

Over the course of the last twenty years, a growing number of problems have been identified related with scientific integrity. Consequently, numerous articles and reports have been published on very striking cases of scientific fraud, alarming rates of questionable research practices and problems concerning the trustworthiness of scientific results. This situation has demanded growing attention to research integrity. For this reason, organisations and international networks have been established, statements have been issued and codes of conduct drawn up that describe what is considered best practice in research, based on the fundamental principles of integrity in this field. Among these codes and statements, worthy of mention are the Singapore Statement (2010), the Montreal Statement (2013), the Hong Kong Principles (2019) and the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (2011), revised and updated in 2017. 

The abstract principles of these statements must be translated into specific areas of action on which efforts must be focused by the institutions that conduct research and funding organisations. Within this context, the need for instruments and tools to help drive this process forward has been made manifest. In recent years, numerous initiatives and projects have emerged that are developing a wide range of resources aimed at organisations and at the researchers themselves. The funding organisations, universities, and research centres often face difficulties when deciding where to start, to comprehensively conceive and draw up specific policies and action procedures. 

The European SOPs4RI Project has developed a series of tools to support institutions in this process. This is a structured collection of standardised procedures and guides that organisations can use freely to develop their research integrity plans, adapted to their needs and their specific characteristics. Furthermore, the European projects EnTIRE and VIRT2UE have developed an online platform – The Embassy of Good Science – that presents detailed information on how to conduct scientific activity responsibly and with integrity. The platform offers a broad collection of resources to help those who are seeking support to manage research practices and tackle the dilemmas that emerge on a daily basis in this field. It includes advice, directives and guides, numerous examples of best practices, and training materials.

3. Conclusions

The growing attention that, on an international scale, is being paid to problems related with scientific integrity and reliability of results is being translated into a process of reforms in this sphere. Through new requirements, funding organisations are driving forward this completely necessary process. For example, in the new European framework programme for research and innovation for the period 2021-2027 – Horizon Europe – institutions that receive funding should have established clear scientific integrity plans and procedures.