Trust is one of the Lab’s Stewardship values. According to our Stewardship website, “We strive to earn the trust of the public, the scientific community, our stakeholders, and each other by safeguarding our record of excellence, integrity, safety, openness, reliability, and accountability.”
Our reputation has been built brick by brick over the decades upon a foundation of trust. Today, building on and protecting this trust are more important than ever.
“The integrity of our research as well as how we conduct ourselves in doing this research are critical to our mission,” said Joerg Heber, the Lab’s Research Integrity Officer and head of the Research Compliance Office (RCO). “Without the trust of the public, our stakeholders, and our colleagues, we cannot have the impact we desire. We want to apply the highest standards of conduct for research integrity and research ethics.”
Not only are research integrity and research ethics important to our reputation, they are also important because the Lab also acts as role models for the scientific community. “Thousands of scientists from all over the world interact with the Lab for a short period of time, and take what they learn to the international scientific community,” continued Joerg. “Researchers from around the world take note of how we behave, and use our behaviors as a guide in conducting their own work.”
Research Integrity and Research Ethics
Research integrity and research ethics both contribute to trust. Research integrity relates to the research itself. All persons engaged in research at the Lab are responsible for adhering to the highest standards of research integrity. A violation of research integrity can result in research misconduct, which is usually defined as falsification, fabrication, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. Research ethics, on the other hand, is a broader concept, referring to a set of behaviors that are also important to building trust. Research ethics includes open science, inclusivity and recognition of contributions, professional conduct in performing research, and how we treat human and animal research subjects, for example.
“Open science is an important building block to trust. With open science, you are sharing your data, your methods, and your analysis so that others can verify and validate and therefore trust your research,” added Joerg. The RCO also recently launched a new research data policy for the Lab to encourage open science. The policy covers a broad range of topics, including the ownership of the data, data access, as well as the management and the sharing of research data.
Inclusivity and the recognition of others’ contributions is another important pillar to building trust in working relationships. “You can build trust in teams by respecting others’ opinions and what they bring to the table. Recognizing the contribution that a diversity of backgrounds and opinions can bring to a project also builds trust,” said Christine Higgs, Research Integrity and Policy Manager.
The RCO offers tools and support to Lab researchers to ensure the highest standards of research integrity and research ethics. For example, the research misconduct policy defines research integrity and research misconduct. It also protects all parties involved in the investigative process.
The RCO also offers guidelines for research ethics, including guidelines for determining authorship and contributorship. It often handles authorship disputes – disagreements on whether a project team member should be included as an author, or the order in which authors are listed, for example.
“One best practice is to communicate at the beginning of the project what each person’s role and contribution will be, so that there are no surprises. Having open discussions about what work constitutes authorship, and resolving any differences of opinion at the start, can go a long way in heading off potential disputes,” said Christine. “We recommend that all teams have these discussions at the start of their project.”
How Everyone Can Contribute to an Environment of Trust
According to Joerg, everyone at the Lab can contribute to an environment of trust by: 1) being aware of the standards and best practices of integrity and ethical research behavior 2) practicing open science and 3) being open to recognizing any errors in their research.
Christine agreed, ”Leaders, in particular, need to be an example to younger scientists. Younger scientists will look at them as models for how they should behave. Leaders can also build a culture of trust by encouraging their teams to be open about mistakes and by being inclusive. Without this openness, there cannot be trust.”
Lab staff who think there may be a case of research misconduct or a violation of ethical research behavior, or who simply have an issue they would like to discuss, should contact Joerg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Researchers can discuss scenarios in hypothetical terms, without providing names, if they choose. And with the Lab’s whistleblower policy, researchers contacting the RCO face no fear of retaliation.
“Each person has a responsibility to report suspected cases of misconduct. And if the person is unsure, we can help assess the situation based on the policy,” said Joerg.
“Research integrity and research ethics are critical to our reputation and our impact,” he added. “And so the responsibility to ensure that the Lab is living according to the highest standards falls on all of us, from the highest levels of leadership to interns.”