•  The use of honest and verifiable methods in proposing, performing, and evaluating research;

    •  Reporting research results with particular attention to adherence to rules, regulations, guidelines; and

    •  Following commonly accepted professional codes or norms. (NIH, 2012)


The term responsible conduct of research— frequently referred to by its acronym RCR— emerged during this same period as research funders and academic research institutions endeavored to distinguish research misconduct from the processes and activities that constituted good scientific practice (IOM, 1989; NIH, 1990; NRC, 1992). The concept became particularly important in education policy following a 1990 amendment to the NIH’s policies on research training grants. The amendment required the mandatory instruction in RCR that was part of all institutional research training grants to add instruction on professional ethics and regulatory standards (NIH, 1990).

Initially the content of such instruction was not defined. Formal textbooks and other curricular materials developed both before and in response to the training grant mandate covered a wide array of issues that grew both broader and more concrete over time (Heitman and Bulger, 2005). For example, the first edition of the National Academies’ On Being a Scientist, published in 1989, examined the nature of scientific research and the social mechanisms of science from a largely historical and sociological perspective (NRC, 1989). In 1995, the second edition, subtitled Responsible Conduct in Research, expanded its discussion of the social and historical context of science to incorporate more instruction on professional standards of practice and the scientist’s role in society (NRC, 1995).

Over the past two decades, however, instruction in responsible conduct of research has increasingly focused on the elements of research practice and the ethical values and professional norms of science. Current NIH policy on research training grants defines responsible conduct of research as “the practice of scientific investigation with integrity,” which includes “awareness and application of established professional norms and ethical principles in the performance of all activities related to scientific research” (NIH, 2009).

In 2000, a decade after NIH’s initial training grant mandate for instruction in responsible conduct of research, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Research Integrity (ORI) proposed a new educational policy to extend NIH’s requirement for RCR instruction in training grants to everyone funded by Public Health Service grants, not just research trainees (ORI, 2000). This policy was short lived, due largely to the anticipated costs of providing such an extensive educational activity across the federally funded research enterprise (Steneck and Bulger, 2007). Nonetheless, the policy’s impact on education was significant in that ORI defined nine core areas for instruction that contained the knowledge, skills, and attitudes essential to responsible conduct. These nine core areas were:

    •  Data acquisition, management, sharing, and ownership

    •  Mentor/trainee responsibilities

    •  Publication practices and responsible authorship

    •  Peer review

    •  Collaborative science

    •  Human subjects

    •  Research involving animals

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