Ethics is an integral part of research from the beginning to the end. It is only by getting the ethics right that research excellence can be achieved. Ethical research conduct implies the application of fundamental ethical principles and legislation to scientific research in all possible domains of research – for example biomedical research, nature sciences, social sciences and humanities.
The most common ethical issues include:
It also includes the avoidance of any breach of research integrity, which means, in particular, avoiding fabrication, falsification, plagiarism or other research misconduct.
Ethics is given the highest priority in EU funded research: all the activities carried out under Horizon 2020 must comply with ethical principles and relevant national, EU and international legislation, for example the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights.
In the work programme 2014-2015 'Science with and for Society', one of the ethics topics, aims at promoting research integrity. The research misconduct cases in the 1980s in the United States have led to the adoption of guidelines and codes of conduct, however, the cases are very complex and diverse. As there is no single approach to research misconduct, the pros and cons of different methods should be assessed. The cases where suspicion was confirmed and lead to sanctions are indispensable.
The other topic focusses on ethics dumping. Due to the progressive globalisation of research activities, the risk is higher that research with sensitive ethical issues is conducted by European organisations outside the EU in a way that would not be accepted in Europe from an ethical point of view. This exportation of these non-compliant research practices is called ethics dumping.
In order to mitigate and reduce the risk, European, national and international ethics bodies should collaborate actively and at multiple levels: within the EU, between the EU and other high-income countries, and between high-income and low-income countries, where the risks of dumping is higher. Good practices shall be identified with the aim of elaborating a code of conduct for all actors.