Promoting Responsible Research Conduct: A South African Perspective


A great deal of effort has gone into developing capacity in the sphere of human research protection programmes in South Africa and Africa over the last decade or more, by several international organisations. However the promotion of the broader agenda of research integrity or ‘RCR’ (Responsible Conduct of Research) has lagged behind. From a global perspective South Africa and other African countries are actively involved in research endeavours and collaborations across a very broad spectrum of scientific fields. For this research to fulfil its potential social value it must be reliable and trustworthy and hence it is essential that research institutions and universities take the promotion of research integrity seriously. The purpose of this paper is to consider the role of an institutional office of research integrity within the context of academic research particularly in South Africa but also in Africa. I will reflect on my own experience over a period of five years as a research integrity officer at a South African academic institution to highlight concerns in five domains; the promotion of an ethic of responsibility in opposition to compliance and bureaucracy, collaboration ethics and collegiality especially in the context of North-South collaborations, authorship and publication ethics, the problem of plagiarism and the utility of policy and procedure. I will suggest that the establishment of such an office can be of great value in the promotion of a broad culture of research ethics and responsible research conduct. The possible role and scope of function of an institutional office of research integrity will be briefly outlined.

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Fig 1


  1. 1.

    In South Africa the Fogarty International Center has funded three training programmes on a five year, renewable basis. IRENSA (International Research Ethics Network South Africa) was established in 2003 and ran for 10 years. Successful candidates obtained a Diploma in International Research Ethics from the University of Cape Town. SARETI (Southern African Research Ethics Training Initiative) is ongoing and in its third cycle. This Masters degree programme is based at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and is planning to expand to include a doctoral programme, if re-funded. ARESA (Advanced Research Ethics training South Africa) is also a research ethics one year diploma programme, based at Stellenbosch University.

  2. 2.

    The definition of health research used in the South African National Health Act No.61. 2003 is very broad and includes all research that aims at gaining a better understanding of biological, social and psychological processes in human beings.

  3. 3.

    My portfolio covers all fields of research at my institution (which is a comprehensive university with ten faculties) and not only health research.

  4. 4.

    This issue is currently being investigated as part of a national research project being conducted under the auspices of SciSTIP (DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Scientometrics and Science, Technology and Innovation Policy) based at Stellenbosch Univeristy. The project

    entitled Authorship and reward: An investigation of researchers’ understanding and experience of scientific authorship and publication incentives in South Africa will use both a national online survey and qualitative methodology to explore publication ethics and the role of publication incentives in influencing publication behaviour at institutions across South Africa. It is hoped that results of this study will be presented at the 5th World Conference on Research Integrity in Amsterdam in 2017.

  5. 5.

    This insight is largely based on personal communication from attendees of research ethics and research integrity workshops that I have presented on behalf of SARIMA (Southern African Research and Innovation Managers Association) /


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I would like to express my sincere and grateful appreciation to my colleague Robert H McLaughlin, University of Cape Town, for reviewing an earlier draft of this paper and for encouraging me to see the article as one relevant to both an international and local audience.

To my good friend Lise Day for language editing.

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Correspondence to Lyn Horn.

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Horn, L. Promoting Responsible Research Conduct: A South African Perspective. J Acad Ethics 15, 59–72 (2017).

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  • Research integrity
  • Research ethics
  • Institutional review board
  • Plagiarism
  • Compliance