One of the most difficult situations that a researcher can encounter is to see or suspect that a colleague has violated the ethical standards of the research community. It is easy to find excuses to do nothing, but someone who has witnessed misconduct has an unmistakable obligation to act. At the most immediate level, misconduct can seriously obstruct or damage one's own research or the research of colleagues. More broadly, even a single case of misconduct can malign scientists and their institutions, result in the imposition of counterproductive regulations, and shake public confidence in the integrity of science.

To be sure, raising a concern about unethical conduct is rarely an easy thing to do. In some cases, anonymity is possible, but not always. Reprisals by the accused person and by skeptical colleagues have occurred in the past and have had serious consequences. Any allegation of misconduct is a very important charge that needs to be taken seriously. If mishandled, an allegation can gravely damage the person charged, the one who makes the charge, the institutions involved, and science in general.

Someone who is confronting a problem involving research ethics usually has more options than are immediately apparent. In most cases the best thing to do is to discuss the situation with a trusted friend or advisor.

In universities, faculty advisors, department chairs, and other senior faculty can be invaluable sources of advice in deciding whether to go forward with a complaint.

An important consideration is deciding when to put a complaint in writing. Once in writing, universities are obligated to deal with a complaint in a more formal manner than if it is made verbally. Putting a complaint in writing can have serious consequences for the career of a scientist and should be undertaken only after thorough consideration.

The research system exerts many pressures on beginning and experienced researchers alike. Principal investigators need to raise funds and attract students. Faculty members must balance the time spent on research with the time spent teaching undergraduates. Industrial sponsorship of research introduces the possibility of conflicts of interest.

All parts of the research system have a responsibility to recognize and respond to these pressures. Institutions must review their own policies, foster awareness of research ethics, and ensure that researchers are aware of the policies that are in place. And researchers should constantly be aware of the extent to which ethically based decisions will influence their success as scientists.

–> 4 Good research organization
4.1 Formulation of Rules for Good Research Practice (ii)