Responsible Conduct of Research

Visit the Cornell RCR page, sponsored by the Office of Research Integrity and Assurance.

As the Academy Turns: Adventures in Scholarly and Research Ethics

Consider what it means to be a responsible researcher or scholar. What does it mean to be ethical? Of course, one must be in compliance with rules and regulations. But in addition, ethical researchers and scholars think critically about the range of their behaviors that impact others—their research subjects, students and trainees, collaborators, and the scientific or scholarly community and citizens at large. We like the way researchers at The Center for Ethics at the University of Montana describe it: “One is ethically responsible for far more than for what one can be held legally accountable. It is wrong to lie in many more instances than the lies for which one can be prosecuted. In an analogous fashion…requirements for compliance prescribe a minimal standard for research practice. It is important to know how to be compliant…. But it is equally important that individuals think about how best to meet their role-related responsibilities in ways that go beyond mere compliance with rules and regulations… Encourage research that is praiseworthy rather than simply discourage research that is blameworthy.”

This book on the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) and Academic Integrity (AI) provides an overview and introduction to the topics and issues in RCR and AI. We invite you to read a brief novel of seven chapters that follows the experiences of Ramona, her graduate student and post-doc colleagues, and her faculty mentors and supervisors. Discussion and reflection questions prompt you to think and write about your own reactions to these situations and offer advice to the story characters from your knowledge and experiences. Integration questions guide you to new resources and information. Additional online and print resources are linked to each chapter for your further reading and reflection.


The primary objective of this book is to enable you to identify issues and dilemmas in the responsible conduct of research and to develop responses that reflect the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior. You’ll read about the novel’s characters and their competing needs, interests, and ethics. We hope you are compelled to use your knowledge of institutional policies, regulatory agencies, the law, and codes of ethics from a range of disciplines to construct your own ethical and responsible code of conduct.

What is responsible conduct of research (RCR)?

RCR—responsible conduct of research—refers to policies and guidelines that ensure scientific and integrity standards in research and scholarship. There are nine issues or core topics in the responsible conduct of research:

  • Collaborative science
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Data management
  • Mentor-trainee relationships
  • Peer review
  • Publication practices and responsible authorship
  • Research misconduct
  • Use of human subjects
  • Use of animal subjects

These areas are most frequently mentioned in training requirements by funding and regulatory agencies, which have increasingly focused their attention on greater expectations and requirements for disclosure, accountability, and regulation of research. In addition, we have given special attention in this book to identifying and developing appropriate responses to observed misconduct and the reporting of violations of these nine areas of RCR.

Ethical dilemmas in research are complex. As you think about your own behavior, yours decisions about responsible conduct of research are likely based on:

  • Professional code of ethics
  • Regulations from governmental funding agencies
  • Policies and standards of institutional sponsors

This factual knowledge is essential. But decisions about responsible conduct of research also are based on your ability, as an individual and as a collaborator, to reflect and construct practices of ethical and responsible conduct.

Sound, ethical decision making requires knowing both what to do and how to put into action ones’ own knowledge and principles. Responses may vary among academic and cultural climates. And although there may be several right ways to respond, there also are many inappropriate responses. We invite you, as you interact with your colleagues, to develop new understanding and sensitivities that are representative of your own code of ethics. James Rest (1986) has described such a social construction of knowledge in the areas of cognitive and moral reasoning. Here, we use a constructivist model to frame the continuing development of your ethical code of conduct in research and professional responsibility as you think about and react to the questions and conflicts faced by fictitious characters.