tion of hypotheses and study design, the conduct of the research, and interpretation of the results (Grinnell, 1992; Macrina, 2000). These preconceptions can inform and improve research, but the existence of such preconceptions can also cause investigators to stretch, and sometimes exceed, the limits of acceptable behavior. Thus, recognition of preconceptions, biases, and the need for integrity in the research process is essential for maintaining scientific excellence and the public’s trust. Integrity in research embodies above all an individual’s commitment to intellectual honesty and personal responsibility and an institution’s commitment to creating an environment that promotes responsible conduct (see Chapter 2).
Nevertheless, even the best scientific intentions may produce unverifiable results because of flawed hypotheses, inadequate technology, the faulty execution of research, or the incorrect interpretation of results. In fact, errors, responses to errors, and validation of errors are important elements of the scientific process. In testifying to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Assessing Integrity in Research Environments, which prepared this report, former National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Harold Varmus said, “The notion of truth in science is difficult…. We don’t know what the truth is. We are working our way toward the truth; and we are dependent on data, and data can be misleading.” Consequently, even the most promising of experiments, conducted by seasoned researchers, will frequently fail. An important aspect of integrity in research is how one deals with error and with studies conducted erroneously. How mistakes are dealt with may have an important impact on the ethical climate of a research environment.
Biomedical research is often the focus of scrutiny because its findings can have important implications for health, it is highly regulated, and it receives substantial public funding. Moreover, serious errors or misconduct in biomedical research can lead to dire or even lethal consequences for research subjects. Media coverage of integrity in research usually focuses on clinical research catastrophes, egregious conflicts of interest, and overt research misconduct (e.g., the falsification or fabrication of data and plagiarism).
Even though issues related to the conduct of research in the areas of health and disease are foremost in the minds of many people, responsible conduct is vital for all areas of science. For example, research in the physical, chemical, and environmental sciences leads to the innovative and more effective use of natural resources; the identification of new energy sources; the structural and mechanical safety of bridges, buildings, and various modes of transportation; and methods for managing and reducing the waste generated from the actions of humans and the machines that they create. Technology and communications are also important in