What is Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)?

The integrity of research conducted at Cornell is of the utmost importance to the institution, as well as to the public and the sponsors of our research. Cornell is committed to promoting and supporting the ethical and responsible conduct of research across all disciplines so that our researchers are provided an environment in which they may continue to conduct preeminent research and maintain the public's trust.

Responsible Conduct of Research is a crucial component of the education provided to students and trainees who are involved in Cornell research. RCR instruction encourages professional ethical behavior through online trainings, workshops and symposia. The following topics are covered as a part of Cornell’s RCR educational offerings. Click on them to learn more:

(Adapted from Health and Human Services (HHS) The Office of Research Integrity’s website)

Research misconduct means fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.

  1. Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
  2. Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.
  3. Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.

(Adapted from The HHS Office of Research Integrity’s website, Authorship and Publication authorship and Avoiding Plagiarism and Self Plagiarism)

The names that appear at the beginning of a paper let others know who conducted and should be credited for the research. This is important in case there are questions about methods, data, and the interpretation of results. It is also important because researchers are often promoted in accordance with the quality and quantity of their publications.

Authorship entails the ability to publicly take responsibility for the contents of a project. Generally, only those who make substantive intellectual contributions to a project should be listed as authors, and the order of authorship should be based on the degree of importance of each author’s contribution to the project.

Examples of substantive contributions include, but are not limited to: aiding in the conceptualization of the hypotheses, designing the methodology of the investigation, or significantly contributing to the writing the manuscript. Activities such as entering information in a database or merely collecting data are not sufficient grounds for authorship, but should be acknowledged in a footnote. In addition, honorary or courtesy authorship assigned on the basis of some leadership position (such as being head of the department where the research is carried out) must also be avoided.

(Adapted from The HHS Office of Research Integrity’s website, and from Teaching the Responsible Conduct of Research Through Case Study Approach and Guidelines for the Conduct of Research at the National Institutes of Health)

Grant proposals and manuscripts submitted for publication are routinely reviewed by peers, that is, by other researchers with expertise on the topic being addressed and the methods used. Peer review plays several roles in science. It may lead to improvements in study designs, data analysis, or the articulation of results; it provides quality assurance by acting as a mechanism for rejecting proposals and articles that do not meet quality standards; and it provides a device for distributing grant dollars and space in premium journals.

Peer review requires that the reviewer be an expert in the subject under review. The reviewer, however, should avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest that might arise because of a direct competitive, collaborative or other close relationship with one or more of the authors of the material under review.

Peer reviews must be objective and should be based solely on scientific evaluation of the material under review, and within the context of published information. These reviews should not be influenced by scientific information that is not publicly available.

All material under review should be treated as confidential information. It should not be used to the benefit of the reviewer unless it previously has been made public. It should not be shared, copied, retained, or used in any manner by the reviewer unless specifically permitted by the journal or reviewing organization and the author.

(Adapted from The HHS Office of Research Integrity’s website)

Collaborative research happens when researchers team up with colleagues who have the expertise or resources needed to carry out a particular project. Collaborations can be as simple as one researcher sharing techniques or materials with another researcher, or as complex as multi-centered projects that involve academic research centers, government laboratories, and for-profit companies working under a single project.

Effective collaboration begins with a clear understanding of roles and relationships. Before any work is undertaken, collaborators should reach a common understanding of:

  • the goals of the project and anticipated outcomes;
  • the role each partner in the collaboration will play;
  • how data will be collected, stored, and shared;
  • how changes in the research design will be made;
  • who will be responsible for drafting publications;
  • the criteria that will be used to identify and rank contributing authors;
  • who will be responsible for submitting reports and meeting other requirements;
  • who will be responsible for or have the authority to speak publicly for the collaboration;
  • how intellectual property rights and ownership issues will be resolved; and
  • how the collaboration can be changed and when it will come to an end.

Although they may seem obvious, these points can easily get lost in the day-to-day work of doing research. When working with collaborators, keep in touch. Without effective communication, collaborations can easily run into problems and dissolve.

(Adapted from Teaching the Responsible Conduct of Research through Case Study Approach, Guidelines for the Conduct of Research at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Pennsylvania Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Handbook)

Research involving human participants entails a rigorous responsibility for the wellbeing of the research subjects. Human participants make an important contribution to science, and this commitment must invite in return the utmost in respect and diligence from the researcher. That respect and diligence should include planning studies so that the potential benefits(to both the subject and society)outweigh any risks. In addition, steps must be taken to ensure that subjects are selected equitably and that they make an informed decision when consenting to participation in the study. Informed consent requires that patients be fully informed of the risks and benefits of the research, be competent to evaluate this information, and make a decision free from coercion and other inappropriate influences.

(Adapted from Teaching the Responsible Conduct of Research through Case Study Approach, Guidelines for the Conduct of Research at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Pennsylvania Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Handbook)

Animal research not only plays an essential role in improving human health, but in many cases benefits the care and treatment of the animals themselves. Although the use of animals in research is not without controversy, public support is strong when the research is carried out humanely.

When proposing to use animals in research there must be appropriate scientific support to justify the experiments. This analysis is conducted by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). At Cornell, the IACUC reviews all proposed projects involving animals to ensure that they meet scientific and humane standards, including those determined by the NIH.

Just as with the use of human subjects, the use of animals can present difficult choices and ethical dilemmas. Some questions that scientists may face in animal research include the following:

  • Is it appropriate to use an animal model if an alternative, non-living system would work, albeit less well?
  • If the use of an analgesic or anesthetic would alter body chemistry in a way to compromise the data obtained, should the need for accurate data outweigh the concern for alleviating pain and suffering?
  • If an animal can survive an experiment, what is one's obligation to sustain its life after the experiment is completed? Should the species of animal involved weigh into the decision (i.e., should one feel differently about preserving the life of a rat versus a chimpanzee?)
  • Is repeated experimentation on a single animal justified if it means using fewer animals overall?

(Adapted from The Office of Research Integrity’s website)

A conflict of interest arises whenever a researcher’s relationship to an organization affects, or gives the appearance of affecting, his or her ability to be objective in the conduct of their research.

Some examples of potential conflicts of interest are:

  1. The family member of a researcher is associated with an organization whose product the researcher is evaluating. The family member’s association with the organization may compromise the researcher’s ability to carry out the evaluation objectively.
  2. A researcher engages in a study of the efficacy of a particular antidepressant while being funded by the company that manufactures it. The funding relationship casts doubt on the objectivity of the research.

Some conflicts of interest are unavoidable, and having a conflict of interest is not in itself unethical. However, even the perception of a conflict can damage the public’s trust in research. To mitigate these situations, guidelines for managing them are necessary.

(Adapted from Guidelines for Responsible Data Management in Scientific Research)

Data management is a critical component of most scientific research studies. Oversight of data management represents a significant investment of time and effort by the PI, and for oversight to be thorough and correct, PIs must understand the basic concepts of data management and ensure that every member of their research team is involved in the planning, implementation, and maintenance of data management policies and procedures.

Data Management includes the following concepts:

  • Data Ownership pertains to who has the legal rights to the data and who retains the data after the project is completed, including the PI's right to transfer data between institutions.
  • Data Collection pertains to collecting project data in a consistent, systematic manner (i.e., reliability) and establishing an ongoing system for evaluating and recording changes to the project protocol (i.e., validity).
  • Data Storage concerns the amount of data that should be stored--enough so that project results can be reconstructed.
  • Data Protection relates to protecting written and electronic data from physical damage and protecting data integrity, including damage from tampering or theft.
  • Data Retention refers to the length of time one needs to keep the project data according to the sponsor's or funder's guidelines. It also includes secure destruction of data.
  • Data Analysis pertains to how raw data are chosen, evaluated, and interpreted into meaningful and significant conclusions that other researchers and the public can understand and use.
  • Data Sharing concerns how project data and research results are disseminated to other researchers and the general public, and when data should not be shared.
  • Data Reporting pertains to the publication of conclusive findings, both positive and negative, after the project is completed.

(Adapted from Introduction to Responsible Conduct of Research)

Researchers often assume the added role of mentoring trainees. The mentor-trainee relationship is complex and brings into play potential conflicts. How much time—training time for the mentor, research time for the trainee—should each devote to the other? Who gets credit for ideas that take shape during the course of a shared experiment? Who owns the results? When does a trainee become an independent researcher? A productive mentor-trainee relationship should begin with:

  • a clear understanding of mutual responsibilities;
  • commitment to maintain a productive and supportive research environment;
  • proper supervision and review; and
  • an understanding that the main purpose of the relationship is to prepare trainees to become successful researchers.

In any successful mentor-trainee relationship, each person brings something valuable to the table. The experienced researcher has knowledge and skills that the inexperienced researcher needs to learn and may also provide support for the trainee’s research and education. Inexperienced researchers, whether graduate student, postdoc, or research staff, provide labor and fresh ideas. Under a productive relationship, the two work together to advance knowledge and put ideas to work.