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Research Ethics Codes and Guidelines

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Handbook of Research Ethics and Scientific Integrity


Although the origin of professional codes of ethics can be traced back to ancient Greece, their peak was in the late twentieth century with more than 70% of codes of ethics being created after 1990. Today professional ethical standards are formulated as codes of ethics, sets of principles or guidelines, declarations, conventions, charters, or laws, and they differ in scope, form, and content. As there is no consensus on what is meant by “research ethics” and “research integrity,” both concepts are clarified here.

Codes of ethics for scientists are often written in reaction to misconduct cases. However, the sudden boom in codes of ethics is also related to growing pressures upon scientists and the conflicting duties they face. Solutions to the issue of the vast number of codes and guidelines – creating a few universal general codes for research or harmonization of existing documents – are also both problematic. A universal code makes sacrifices on the level of content to gain acceptance internationally, and differences in values will continue to pose ethical dilemmas and conflict.

The main obstacles and solutions in order to make codes of ethics work better are highlighted. It is argued that the process of drafting codes of ethics should be inclusive. To engage people real-life cases should be discussed for clarifying implicit values. Implementation requires skills or moral discussion and substantiation of positions. Codes of ethics, the shared understanding of values should be sought within professions. Declared and actual values should be in coherence both in the leadership of the organization and organizational culture.

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Correspondence to Margit Sutrop .

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The ideas expressed in this chapter have been supported by the Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies (European Union, European Regional Development Fund) and are related to research projects IUT20-5 (Estonian Ministry of Education and Research) and support for sectoral R&D – RITA, action 4 – study “Developing Estonian National System for Monitoring and Supporting Ethics in Scientific Research.” This work has also profited from research done in the European Commission financed H2020 projects PRINTEGER and PRO-RES. Ilmar Anvelt and Tiina Kirss helped with English expression.

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Sutrop, M., Parder, ML., Juurik, M. (2020). Research Ethics Codes and Guidelines. In: Iphofen, R. (eds) Handbook of Research Ethics and Scientific Integrity. Springer, Cham.

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