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The Preventative and Punitive Sides of Research Integrity

Melinda Gormley
May 3, 2016

Many universities and federal agencies have research integrity policies that focus on misconduct and improper behaviors, whereas few provide principles of research integrity explaining model behaviors to which researchers can aspire and why such behaviors are important to the research process. By focusing on the negative aspects, research integrity becomes a punitive action associated with compliance and policing. Putting a positive spin on research integrity is an opportunity for providing professional development to researchers. It would be great to see more universities and federal agencies expounding the positive side of research integrity by developing principles that align with their missions and offering researchers professional development training that reinforces these principles of conduct.

Principles of Research Integrity

Few universities have research integrity principles that outline expectations that are positive and preventative. One example is Boston College’s Research Integrity Principles, which includes the following statements.

"As members of the Boston College community of scholars, we will be open and attentive to new observations and discoveries; employ our intellect and reason to analyze these observations and discoveries with honesty and without bias…”

Boston College, like many academic centers, also has a document on Research Integrity Policy and Guidelines of Misconduct that defines misconduct and explains procedural processes. Within the U.S. government, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) generated 14 general principles that apply to all governmental employees, 8 of which explain what governmental employees should do and the rest explain what not to do. The Environmental Protection Agency has Scientific Integrity Principles.

OGE: “Employees shall put forth honest effort in the performance of their duties.”

EPA: “EPA employees, whatever their grad level, job or duties must ensure that their works is of the highest integrity; represent their own work fairly and accurately…”

Codes of Conduct

Many professional societies have codes of conduct or ethics statements explaining responsible research and teaching practices and noting the importance of professional and public service. These tend to have a positive tone overall and may call attention to irresponsible actions.

The National Academy of Engineering oversees the Online Ethics Center. Go to its webpage on Ethics Codes and Guidelines for more information.

Research Integrity Policies and Procedures for dealing with Misconduct

Policies available through universities tend to cover procedural process for dealing with misconduct. The statements are typically issued by the Research Integrity Officer (RIO) and/or the compliance entity within the office of research or its equivalent.

What principles and policies has your professional society or employer issued? 

Look up the principles and policies that your employer has issued. Do they provide more guidance on what to do or what not to do? Look up the principles and codes that your professional society has issued. What do they say about your personal, professional, and public obligations? 

Image Courtesy of Arnaud Mesureur /


Melinda Gormley

Melinda Gormley is Research Development Officer of the Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. She has a PhD in history of science and her work has focused on the role of scientists in public policy and life sciences in 20th century America. She was a 2015-2016 AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the Environmental Protection Agency working in the Office of the Science Advisor and contributing to the Scientific Integrity and Human Subjects Research programs. 


This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of AAAS, its Council, Board of Directors, officers, or members. AAAS is not responsible for the accuracy of this material. AAAS has made this material available as a public service, but this does not constitute endorsement by the association.

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