Carole Roth, July 2002
The purpose of this section is to review the goals that might motivate teaching of RCR courses.
The goal of teaching research ethics is not to change character or make good people. Rather, it is to teach people who want to do good science about the ethical standards and issues in their work, and how to deal with ethical problems they encounter as scientists.
(Swazey and Bird, 1997).

Before creating a program of instruction or education in the responsible conduct of research, it is essential to first answer the question: What are the goals for teaching responsible conduct of research? Some courses may be created only in response to federal or institutional requirements, but it is still important for an instructor to assess what changes he/she hopes to achieve.

Currently there is no agreed upon set of goals or objectives across institutional training programs in RCR; however, most teaching goals could fit into one or more of the following five general categories:

Behavior | Attitudes | Knowledge | Skills | Community

The purpose of teaching responsible conduct of research (RCR) is to promote integrity in the work of scientists, scholars, and professionals involved in the field of scientific inquiry and practice. Responsible and ethical research behavior of scientists, research institutions, and government agencies, has historically relied on a system of self-regulation based on shared ethical principles and generally accepted practices. Interest in the teaching of RCR has surged in response to new and proposed federal requirements for PHS-funded researchers to receive training in RCR. Recent national attention to highly publicized cases of fraud, plagiarism, and other instances of professional misconduct has elevated the importance of teaching RCR.

Blatant forms of research misconduct in the past including cases involving fabrication, falsification or plagiarism resulted in political attention and reaction during the 1980s. In 1981 at the opening of the hearings on scientific fraud before the Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Chairman Albert Gore of Tennessee, stated, ‘At the base of our investment in research lies the trust of the American people and the integrity of the scientific enterprise.’ (Reference: US Congress, House. Fraud in Biomedical Research, Hearings before Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight; 97th Congress, 1st Session. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1981)

Dingell (1993) in his Shattuck lecture summarized high profile cases of medical research misconduct that resulted in political interest and activities of the 1980s and 1990s leading to federal policies and guidelines requiring instruction about the responsible conduct of research.

In another interesting article, LaFollette (1994) described how research fraud became a governmental concern, ‘a matter of politics not science’ due to the reactions of the scientific leadership to instances of research fraud and misconduct.

In response to the many instances of research misconduct and questionable research practices at major research institutions in the 1980s, the Institute of Medicine wrote in a 1989 report, �instruction in the standards and ethics of research is essential to the proper education of scientists.� Following implementation by the NIH of a requirement that training grant programs provide training in the responsible conduct of research, many formal RCR training programs have now been established. Although NIH mandated instruction in RCR, specific goals and core competencies were not defined. Nor does the requirement specify a particular format or curriculum. Other governmental and nongovernmental advisory bodies have endorsed RCR education and training. These agencies recognize the need for curriculum and core competency development (DHHS, 1995; Korenman,SG, Shipp, AC, 1994; National Academy of Sciences, 1992).

The pre-requisite assumption to be agreed upon before discussing the goals and core competencies for the teaching of RCR is that ethics can be taught. One must first believe that RCR instruction can influence the thinking processes that relate to behavior, and that students can learn the conventions and rules for appropriate research conduct, to reflect on choices and decisions regarding RCR, to develop ethical sensitivity and critical thinking skills, and can learn to effectively resolve ethical conflicts in new situations. In a review of The University of Chicago�s program on scientific integrity, Sachs and Siegler (1993) discussed this question of benefits in teaching research ethics. They cited similar discussions in the past relative to teaching medical ethics to medical students and residents (Miles et al, 1989; Clouser, 1975). Critics of teaching medical ethics said that a trainee�s character and moral constitution were determined by his or her upbringing many years before reaching medical school or residency training. In a study by Pellegrino et al (1985) of the benefits of medical ethics courses, a large number of practicing physicians responded that ethics courses were beneficial for teaching physicians to identify values conflicts, for increasing sensitivities to patients needs, or increasing their understanding of their own values and to deal more openly with moral dilemmas.


Works cited

Clouser, K.D. (1975) Medical ethics: some uses, abuses, and limitations. New England J of Medicine, 293, 384-487.

Dingell, J.D. (1993) Shattuck lecture � misconduct in medical research. NEJM, 328(22):1610-1615.

Korenman, S.G. & Shipp, A.C. with the AAMC Ad Hoc Committee on Misconduct and Conflict of Interest in Research Subcommittee on Teaching Research Ethics. Teaching the Responsible Conflict of Research through a Case-Study Approach: A Handbook for instructors. Washington, D.C.: Association of American medical Colleges, Division of Biomedical Research.

LaFollette, M.C. (1994) The pathology of research fraud: The history and politics of the US experience. Journal of Internal Medicine, 235:129-135.

Miles, S.H., Lange, L.W., Bickel, J., Walker, R.M., & Cassel, C.K. (1989) Medical ethics education: Coming of age. Academic Medicine, 64:705-714.

National Academy of Sciences. Responsible Science: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process. Vol.1. Washington, D.C.: National academy Press, 1992.

Pellegrino, E.D., Hart, R.J. Jr., Henderson, S.R., Loeb, S. & Edwards, G. (1991) Relevance and utility in courses in medical ethics: A survey of physicians� perceptions. JAMA, 253: 49-53.

Sachs, G.A. & Siegler, M. (1993) Teaching scientific integrity and the responsible conduct of research. Academic Medicine, 68(12):871-875.

Swazey, J.P., and Bird, S.J. (1997) Teaching and Learning Research Ethics, in Elliott, D. and Stern, J.E. (eds.) Research Ethics: A Reader, University Press of New England, Hanover, NH: 1-19.

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