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The topics below provide introductions to specific research ethics/RCR issues. Each topic includes, as appropriate, background information, reference to relevant rules and regulations, guidelines or best practices, and resources for further information.

For an introductory overview on the responsbile conduct of research, see: Overview.


The method for assigning credit in most, but not all, areas of scholarship is authorship. Being able to cite authorship credit for a new finding or insight is central to career and academic advancement. However, criteria for authorship vary widely, even within the same research discipline. Questions of who should not be listed as an author, who should be included, and in what order names should be listed are all highly contentious and often in dispute. Because practices vary, it is not practical to be specific about how authorship should be handled, but certain key questions can be asked in all cases:

  1. What are the criteria for authorship?
  2. In what order should authors be listed?
  3. How can credit be assigned if not by authorship?
  4. Who decides?
  5. What are the options for resolving a dispute about authorship?

The answers to these questions will vary among disciplines and even among research groups and individual researchers. However, in all cases, it seems that a nominal “best practice” would be for each research group to at least be clear about how those questions are answered for their particular circumstance. As a minimum, members of a research group or team should be aware of how authorship credit is to be assigned.

Although specific cases make it difficult to provide a fixed answer for all authorship questions, at least one very influential group has established a set of guidelines useful at least for initiating discussions about authorship. The International Committee of Journal Editors has produced guidelines for journal articles, including criteria for authorship. These guidelines require that authorship should be given to someone if and only if they meet all four of the following criteria:

  1. “Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  2. Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  3. Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  4. Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.”

One other approach to authorship, increasingly adopted, is the “Contributorship” model (Authorship Task Force, 2000). In brief, the contributions are listed for each author. It is hoped that providing information about individual contributions will be both useful to authors in deciding who should be listed and to readers who can have increased confidence about who provided what expertise to the publication.

For further reading about authorship, see:

  1. Authorship
  2. Authorship Task Force (2000): Is it time to update the tradition of authorship in scientific publications? Council of Science Editors (formerly Council of Biology Editors)
  3. Horton R, Smith R (1996): Signing up for authorship. Lancet 347(9004):780.
  4. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (2006): Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals. JAMA 4277:927-34
  5. Macrina FL (2014): Chapter 4: Authorship and Peer Review. In (Macrina FL, au): Scientific Integrity, 4th ed., ASM Press, Washington, DC, pp. 83-134.
  6. Rennie D, Flanagin A, Yank V (2000): The contributions of authors. JAMA 284(1): 89-91.
  7. Smith R (1997): Authorship is dying: long live contributorship. British Medical Journal 315(7110): 696.
  8. Yank V, Rennie D (1999): Disclosure of researcher contributions: a study of original research articles in The Lancet. Annals of Internal Medicine 130(8): 661-70.

For disputes or questions about authorship, contact:

See also: Collaboration, Publication

Conflicts of Interest

We all have conflicts at one time or another between, for example, our responsibilities to family, friends, and/or work. Having conflicts is not in itself an ethical problem. The question is how we deal with those conflicts when they arise.

In science, particular attention has been focused on the conflict between financial gain and scientific integrity. Although a case can be made that few scientists would intentionally falsify or fabricate data for the sake of a financial interest, a strong association has been repeatedly found between financial support from industry and positive findings in research. There are many possible reasons for this correlative relationship, but one important factor is unconscious individual or systemic bias. For this reason alone, it is understandable that efforts are made to identify, disclose, minimize, manage or even eliminate  financial conflicts of interest.

Whether or not a conflict is financial, the risk of bias maybe mitigated, if not eliminated, by the appropriate design and conduct of research studies. This can be accomplished, for example, by coding samples for data collection and analysis or having studies conducted to the extent possible by others who do not have the same conflicts. Doing so will help to not only protect against financial conflicts but other contributors to bias such as the desire to publish another paper, or to prove an attractive hypothesis.

Federal, state, and institutional regulations and policies are in place to require research investigators to declare financial conflicts of interest to the institutional conflict of interest office. Depending on the extent and nature of those conflicts, an investigator might be told that while a  conflict of interest exists,  the research can continue if appropriate measures are taken to manage that conflict, or that the researcher needs to minimize or eliminate that conflict before research can continue.

For more information about institutional reporting requirements and procedures, contact:

More information about conflict of interest policies can be found below:

For further reading about financial conflicts of interest, see:

  1. Bradley SG (2014): Chapter 7: Competing Interests in Research. In (Macrina FL, au): Scientific Integrity, 4th ed., ASM Press, Washington, DC, pp. 209-242.
  2. Friedman LS, Richter ED (2004): Relationship between conflicts of interest and research results.  J Gen Intern Med 19(1):51-56
  3. Golder S, Loke YK (2008): Is there evidence for biased reporting of published adverse effects data in pharmaceutical industry-funded studies? Br J Clin Pharmacol 66(6):767-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2008.03272.x. Epub 2008 Jul 31.
  4. Lexchin J, Bero LA, Djulbegovic B, Clark O (2003): Pharmaceutical industry sponsorship and research outcome and quality: systematic review.  Br Med J 326(7400):1167-1170
  5. Ridker PM, Torres J (2006): Reported Outcomes in Major Cardiovascular Clinical Trials Funded by For-Profit and Not-for-Profit Organizations: 2000-2005. JAMA.  295(19):2270-2274. doi:10.1001/jama.295.19.2270.
  6. Rising K, Bacchetti P, Bero L (2008): Reporting bias in drug trials submitted to the Food and Drug Administration: review of publication and presentation.  PLoS Med 5(11):e217
  7. Sismondo S (2008): How pharmaceutical industry funding affects trial outcomes: causal structures and responses.  Soc Sci Med 66(9):1909-1914
  8. Sismondo S (2008): Pharmaceutical company funding and its consequences: a qualitative systematic review.  Contemp Clin Trials  29(2):109-113
  9. Stelfox HT, Chua G, O’Rourke K, Detsky AS (1998): Conflict of interest in the debate over calcium-channel antagonists.  N Engl J Med  338(2):101-106
  10. Wang AT, McCoy CP, Murad MH, Montori VM (2010): Association between industry affiliation and position on cardiovascular risk with rosiglitazone: cross sectional systematic review.  Br Med J 340:c1344

Data Management

Data serve as the structural foundation for research findings. Depending on the nature of a research project, data can be as diverse as numbers written in a lab notebook, images produced with an electron microscope, audio recordings of interviews with human subjects, genetically modified cell lines, customized software, artifacts collected from an archaeological dig, or geological samples from the sea floor. Because of this diversity, it is not practical to be prescriptive about how all data should be handled, but certain key questions can be asked about data management in all cases:

  • How will the data be collected?
  • How should records be kept and stored?
  • How, if at all, will data be backed up?
  • How long should data be kept?
  • Who owns the data?
  • When and with whom should data be shared?

The answers to these questions will vary among disciplines and even among research groups and individual researchers. However, in all cases, it seems that a nominal “best practice” would be for each research group to at least be clear about how those questions are answered for their particular circumstance. As a minimum, research records should be sufficient to reconstruct what was done: Both for the purpose of future research and to verify that the work had been done as described in subsequent publications.

In addition, there are three key issues relevant to most, if not all, areas of research. First, for research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF), research records must be kept for at least 3 years after the final financial report for a funded award. Second, research ownership typically passes from the funder of the research (e.g., a federal agency or a private funder) to the University, not to the research investigators. This isn’t to say that the University typically makes decisions about what can or will be done with research data; however, the University does have legal standing to do so. For all other practical purposes, the rights of ownership largely belong to the head of the research group. Third, federal agencies, particularly the NIH and NSF, have made funding contingent on plans to share research data and products, particularly after publication.

For more information about data management, some useful resources include:

  1. Blum C (2012): Access to and Retention of Research Data: Rights and Responsibilities. Council on Governmental Relations, Washington, DC.
  2. Burroughs Welcome Fund – Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Chapter 8. Data management and Laboratory Notebooks. A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty. Pp. 143-152.
  3. Committee on Responsibilities of Authorship in the Biological Sciences (2003): Sharing Publication-Related Data and Materials: Responsibilities of Authorship in the Life Sciences. Board on Life Sciences, Division on Earth and Life Studies, National Research Council of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
  4. Kanare HM (1985): Writing the Laboratory Notebook, American Chemical Society, Washington, DC.
  5. Macrina FL (2014): Chapter 10. Scientific Recordkeeping. In (Macrina FL, au): Scientific Integrity, 4th ed., ASM Press, Washington, DC, pp. 329-359.
  6. Mays TD, Macrina FL (2014): Chapter 9. Research Data and Intellectual Property. In (Macrina FL, au): Scientific Integrity, 4th ed., ASM Press, Washington, DC, pp. 287-357.
  7. NIH (2015): NIH Sharing Policies and Related Guidance on NIH-Funded Research Resources.
  8. NIH Office of the Director (2008): Guidelines for Scientific Record Keeping in the Intramural Research Program at the NIH.
  9. NSF (2009): Meaningful Laboratory Records. NSF Office of Inspector General Semiannual Report Congress, March 2009, p. 51.
  10. NSF. Dissemination and Sharing of Research Results.
  11. Office of Management and Budget: OMB's Records Management Policy
  12. Ryan P: Keeping a Lab Notebook: Basic Principles and Best Practices. Office of Intramural Training and Education, National Institutes of Health.

For more information at UCSD, please contact the Office of Research Affairs at (858) 534-9758 and see Access and Management of Research Data.

See also: Collaboration, Authorship


Because so much about being a successful researcher must be learned in the context of being a researcher, successful mentoring relationships are essential both for the individual and for science collectively. While it is clear that mentoring is important for career development, insufficient mentoring is frequently a contributing factor to research misconduct (Wright et al., 2008).

The term “Mentor” is used often in academia and research, but its meaning is confounded by many different uses. For example, is someone a mentor because they are a student’s thesis advisor? Or the head of a research group? Can someone have more than one mentor? Is it possible to assign mentors, or is a mentoring relationship one that may or may not develop between two individuals over time? These questions beg the fundamental question of what it means to be a mentor.

In reviewing the literature about mentoring it is clear that in the research environment this term is variably defined to include advice in at least three domains: scientific, professional, and personal. It is rare that one individual can successfully serve as a mentor in all of these domains. Scientific Mentoring includes teaching and facilitating learning with respect to the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful as a researcher. The focus of Professional Mentoring is the career trajectory and development for someone pursuing a career in science. Personal Mentoring might focus on issues such as dealing with special circumstances (e.g., a disability or entering a field in which your gender is underrepresented) or decisions about marriage, having children, dealing with aging parents, and/or moving with a partner, all in the context of pursuing a research career. For most of those involved in studying and teaching about mentoring, it is important to emphasize that a mentor is seen more as an advisor than as a supervisor. A mentor is someone who typically assists, suggests, and even nudges, rather than directs, orders, or commands.

Examples of key factors that might be covered by mentoring include:

  • Knowledge and skills to be a successful researcher
  • Career development and networking
  • Political, ethical, economic, and social dynamics of being a member of the research community
  • Effective interactions with others as a teacher, member of a team, group leader, administrator, and manager
  • Handling of special personal circumstances (e.g., issues related to gender, race, national origin, language, or disability)

As a minimum, a trainee might ask: Do I have adequate mentoring resources to support me in all of these areas? A research group leader or thesis advisor might ask: Am I adequately preparing my trainees in all of these areas, or at least directing them to useful resources? And all members of the research community might ask: Are there other aspects of being a researcher that could benefit from more effective mentoring?

To help trainees learn more about the importance of mentoring, and to help mentors learn about how they can be more effective, the following resources are recommended:

  1. Mentoring
  2. Anderson MS, Horn AS, Risbey KR, Ronning EA, DeVries R, Martinson BC (2007): What Do Mentoring and Training in the Responsible Conduct of Research Have To Do with Scientists' Misbehavior? Findings from a National Survey of NIH-Funded Scientists. Academic Medicine 82(9):853-860.
  3. Anderson MS, Louis KS (1994): The graduate student experience and subscription to the norms of science. Res Higher Ed 35:273-299.
  4. Brown S, MW Kalichman (1998): Effects of training in the responsible conduct of research: A survey of graduate students in experimental sciences. Science and Engineering Ethics 4(4): 487-498.
  5. Macrina FL (2014): Chapter 3. Mentoring. In: (Macrina FL, au.) Scientific Integrity. An Introductory Text with Cases. 4th Edition, ASM Press, Washington, D.C.
  6. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine (1997): Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C, 84 pp.
  7. National Institutes of Health: A Guide to Training and Mentoring in the Intramural Research Program at NIH.
  8. Swazey JP, Anderson MS (1996): Mentors, advisors, and role models in graduate and professional education. Association of Academic Health Centers, Washington, DC.
  9. University of Michigan (2010): How to Get the Mentoring You Want: A Guide for Graduate Students, Rackham Graduate School.
  10. University of Michigan (2011): How to Mentor Graduate Students: A Guide for Faculty. Rackham Graduate School.
  11. University of Wisconsin: Resources for Each Phase of the Mentoring Relationship.
  12. Whitbeck C (2001): Group mentoring to foster the responsible conduct of research. Science and Engineering Ethics 7:541-558.
  13. Wright DE, Titus DL, Cornelison JB (2008): Mentoring and research misconduct: an analysis of research mentoring in closed ORI cases. Sci Eng Ethics 14(3):323-36. doi: 10.1007/s11948-008-9074-5. Epub 2008 Jul 10.
  14. Wright DE, Titus SL, Cornelison JB (2008): Mentoring and Research Misconduct: An Analysis of Research Mentoring in Closed ORI Cases. Science and Engineering Ethics 14(3): 323-336.

Research Misconduct

Research misconduct is defined by multiple federal agencies and departments, as well as in the UC San Diego Integrity of Research Policy and Procedures, as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism.


“making up data or results and recording or reporting them.”


“manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.”*


“the appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.”

*”The research record is the record of data or results that embody the facts resulting from scientific inquiry, and includes, but is not limited to, research proposals, laboratory records, both physical and electronic, progress reports, abstracts, theses, oral presentations, internal reports, and journal articles.”

For more background on research misconduct, see the Resources for Research Ethics Education Website.

For specific information about what constitutes research misconduct, how to report it, and how it is investigated, see the UCSD Integrity of Research Policy and Procedures. If you have questions about research misconduct, you can also contact the Research Ethics Program or the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research.

To submit an allegation of possible research misconduct:

  • Research Affairs (858) 534-4636
  • UC San Diego Hotline (877) 319-0265

Any supervisor, department chair, dean, or vice chancellor

Note: Some types of serious misconduct in the context of research may not meet the federal definition of research misconduct, but may nonetheless be criminal or sanctionable offenses under other regulations, policies, or guidelines.

See also: Data Management, Whistleblowing


Protection of the integrity of research depends in part on the ability of individuals who witness wrongdoing to appropriately respond to or report what they have seen. Whistleblowing is the act of reporting the possible misbehavior of one or more individuals. According to the University of California Whistleblower Policy, “[t]he whistleblower’s role is as a reporting party. They are not investigators or finders of fact, nor do they determine the appropriate corrective or remedial action that may be warranted.”

Whistleblowing policies of the University of California describe procedures for whistleblowing and protections for whistleblowers in the context of making “protected disclosures” about “improper governmental activities.” This includes, but is not limited to, misuse of government-funded research.

Relevant policies and guidelines:

In addition, guidance for someone contemplating being a whistleblower can be found in two excellent publications:

To submit an allegation of possible research misconduct:

  • Research Affairs (858) 534-4636                  
  • UC San Diego Hotline (877) 319-0265

Any supervisor, department chair, dean, or vice chancellor:

Note: Some types of whistleblowing in the context of research may not rise to the level of reporting of improper governmental activities, and therefore may not fall under the University definitions of whistleblowing. Nonetheless, if a member of the UC San Diego community perceives that something is wasteful, unsafe, or otherwise harmful, then he or she has at least an ethical responsibility to ask questions in the hope of minimizing possible damage.