The School of Social Sciences is committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct in research. Research is central to the public mission of the University of California, and, since it serves the public interest, such research must proceed at every stage in accordance with longstanding and ever-evolving codes of ethical conduct. As Nicholas Steneck writes in his Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research, the “responsible conduct in research is simply good citizenship applied to professional life.”

Varied Methods, Shared Values

Research activities in the social sciences vary from fMRI tests and model building to surveys involving thousands of respondents, reflection on philosophical texts, and ethnographic research in small communities. Yet all social science research is guided by the shared values that Steneck identifies:

  • HONESTY — conveying information truthfully and honoring commitments
  • ACCURACY— reporting findings precisely and taking care to avoid errors
  • EFFICIENCY— using resources wisely and avoiding waste
  • OBJECTIVITY— letting the facts speak for themselves and avoiding improper bias

The term “research conduct” refers to all stages of the research process, from conceptualization to execution to publication and reporting.

Responsible conduct is expected at every stage of the game. This extends to library work, and includes proper attribution of others’ insights. It extends to collaborations among peers as well as formal and informal mentoring of students. The responsible conduct of research is not limited to the protection of human research subjects. But, as with human subject research protections, the ultimate aim is to avoid harm and mitigate potential conflicts of interest. Visit the Social Ecology RCR website for a discussion of the different kinds of harm that can be caused by research misconduct.

School Programs on the Responsible Conduct of Research

The School of Social Sciences has developed several training activities in the responsible conduct of research.

  • Spring Quarter RCR Seminar: This seminar brings Social Science researchers from a range of fields together to provide an overview of the responsible conduct of research, ethical guidelines in research planning, execution and reporting, and discipline-specific perspectives on the research endeavor.
  • Fall Quarter Movie Discussion: Each Fall, the School will host a screening of a film that addresses the responsible conduct of research. Films screened will be fictional accounts or documentaries, and will be followed by a discussion led by a member of the Social Sciences faculty.
  • Other activities, such as Departmental Dialogues, are also planned.
  • Each Department offers courses that contain modules in research ethics.

Social Science Disciplines Have Their Own Codes of Ethical Conduct, in Line With Their Underlying Shared Values

The professional societies of the social science disciplines have developed codes of ethics and responsible conduct that address issues specific to each field as well as the general principles and shared values underling all research activity. These standards are constantly being updated, and serve not only to guide research behavior but also to foster discussion and debate. For example, when anthropologists were enlisted in the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American Anthropological Association hosted dialogues on whether its code of ethics required revision. In light of the recent global financial crisis, the discipline of economics is in the process of debating a code of conduct for professional economists.

Other Resources

The following links provide guidance on the responsible conduct of research and federal guidelines on RCR training:

 

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