Before we look at actual codes of conduct in more detail, it is helpful first to ask a more general question: what sorts of things are in these codes? As noted above, a quick glance reveals a significant variety in the sorts of things that codes of conduct are organized around and describe: (i) values, (ii) norms, rules, standards, or principles (we will use these terms synonymously), (iii) virtues, (iv) responsibilities or duties, and (v) good (or bad) practices. Let us first get a better grip on what these things are.
Values are universals, more specifically good-making properties that actions, events, objects, or persons can have. They are what makes something have worth and be desirable.Footnote 4 For example, to say that truth is a value is to say that it is desirable for claims, theories, or other truth-apt items to be true or, more precisely, that it is desirable for people to believe and say things that are true. Even though most codes do not use the term “value” explicitly, we find various examples of values in them. For instance:
Impact, accountability, leadership, integrity, and collaboration (Canada Policy, p. 3);
Moral leadership, honesty, integrity, rigor, transparency, fairness, respect, recognition, and accountability (Australian Code, pp. 1–2);
Knowledge and trust (Guidelines from Japan, pp. 1–2);
Intellectual honesty, objectivity and impartiality, truthfulness, and fairness and responsibility (FAPESP, Brazil, p. 21);Footnote 5
Respect for autonomy and protection of persons with impaired or diminished autonomy (Guidelines from Zimbabwe, p. 3).
Norms (principles, rules, directives, standards, or guidelines) are statements that describe or prescribe desirable, required, or optimal behavior for researchers or that describe, proscribe, or discourage undesirable, forbidden, or suboptimal behavior. Norms say how people ought, and ought not, to conduct themselves. There are norms at different levels of generality and abstraction, ranging from the very general (“do the right thing”) to the specific and concrete (“use Chicago style in preparing your manuscript for this journal”).Footnote 6 They can also differ in their range of application. Some norms apply to everyone, others only to specific subgroups or individuals, such as, in our case, scientists and scholars. The bulk of codes of research integrity consists of norms. Here are a few examples of general norms that apply to all academic disciplines:
Use the unpublished work of other researchers only with permission and due acknowledgement and use published work of other researchers with due acknowledgement (Canada Policy, p. 4);
Researchers must precisely and completely record the data and information collected, the procedures utilized, and any partial results obtained during the course of a research study (Directives from Brazil, p. 24).
Some norms only apply to some academic fields because of their content. For instance, rules about data management are irrelevant to fields using very little or no empirical data, such as mathematics or philosophy:
Researchers, research institutions, and organizations ensure appropriate stewardship and curation of all data and research materials, including unpublished ones, with secure preservation for a reasonable period (ALLEA, p. 6).
Obviously, norms such as the following are only relevant to fields that do experiments involving animals:
Ensure replacement, reduction, and refinement will be considered at all stages of research involving animals. Act to minimize the impacts on animals used in research and in so doing support the welfare and wellbeing of these animals (Australian Code, p. 4);
Appropriate caution must be exercised in the conduct of research which may affect the environment, and the welfare of animals used for research must be respected (Guidelines from Zimbabwe, p. 18).
Various codes also list examples of violations of academic integrity: research misconduct and unacceptable practices (Directives from Brazil, pp. 31–32). Although these are not explicitly formulated as norms, they can be straightforwardly interpreted as such: avoid misconduct and do not engage in other unacceptable practices. Misconduct is traditionally defined as fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism (Directives from Brazil, p. 31). Another example of an unacceptable practice is:
Virtues are “qualities that make a person excellent” (, p. 2), that is, character traits or behavioral dispositions that individuals can have and that have positive value. They can be subdivided in moral and intellectual virtues. Moral virtues are constitutive of and conducive to a morally upstanding and flourishing life (cf. ), while “intellectual virtues are characteristics that promote intellectual flourishing, or which make for an excellent cognizer” (; cf. also ).Footnote 7
These broad characterizations are fleshed out in different ways by different virtue theorists. Some maintain that intellectual virtues are mere reliable cognitive processes [21, 46, 47], while others construe intellectual virtues more robustly, as involving proper affective and volitional states, in addition to cognitive aspects [4, 42, 50]. We can ignore these differences here and work with a broad inclusive notion of virtue that covers both the “thin” and “thick” construals of virtue.
Although no code of conduct included here mentions virtues explicitly, they do contain many items that are most naturally understood as character traits or good-making qualities of individuals or groups. Here are some examples:
Reliability, honesty, respect, and accountability (ALLEA, p. 4);Footnote 8
Intellectual honesty, objectivity and impartiality, truthfulness, and fairness and responsibility (Directives from Brazil, p. 21).
Note that some items on this list, such as reliability and honesty, can be understood generally as a value—some good-making property that actions, studies, people, events, or instruments can have—or as a virtue, that is, as a moral or intellectual character trait of researchers or perhaps even teams and organizations. This explains why several items on the above list can also be found under “values.” In fact, it follows from the above characterization of values that virtues are, properly speaking, a subset of values. They are, after all, features that make something (in this case, persons) good. The reason to discuss them separately is that they are typically singled out as an especially relevant class of values, since responsible conduct of research directly concerns the behavior and dispositions of researchers.
Responsibilities, duties, and practices
Codes further contain responsibilities, duties, and practices. Responsibilities relate persons to actions or their consequences and make normative appraisal of the person in question possible. If it is your responsibility to enter data carefully or to see to it that it gets done carefully, you are not doing a good job if you do not spend any time in the lab. Duties are similar; they also relate agents to actions or their consequences, by stipulating that there are actions that an agent is obligated or required to do, or consequences she ought to bring about.
The important thing to see is that responsibility and duty talk can easily be translated into norms talk. If it is your responsibility to do X, then the norm “do X” applies to you. If it is your duty to avoid Y, that boils down to a rule that you ought to avoid Y.
Some codes of conduct further describe good, questionable, or unacceptable research practices. We can think of these as ways of conducting, organizing, and evaluating research that are desirable, undesirable, or even precluded, because they exemplify a good or ideal way of doing things, or rather violate it. Talk about practices, too, can easily be translated into talk about norms. We will, therefore, not treat responsibilities, duties, and practices separately but take them into account in our discussion on norms.
This leaves us with three kinds of items that make up the bulk of codes for responsible conduct of research: values, norms, and virtues. These things are generally thought to be metaphysically different.Footnote 9 Appreciating this matters for reasons of analytical clarity, but arguably also has practical import. First, in so far as codes emphasize norms, their implementation and use might promote rule-following and communication about procedures, protocols, etc. An emphasis on virtues, on the other hand, more easily translates to things like mentoring, character-building, and interventions to create a culture of research integrity. Second, failing to appreciate the differences between values, norms, and virtues can lead to confusion in assessing behavior in the light of a code of conduct. For example, one cannot straightforwardly compare an abstract value such as truth with a specific intellectual character trait, such as intellectual thoroughness. Failure to appreciate the difference between virtues and norms might lead one miss the insights that, sometimes, following all the norms to the letter can still fall short of intellectually virtuous behavior and that virtue can sometimes requires one to flout a norm.
Saying that values, norms, and virtues are metaphysically distinct is not to deny that they bear relations to each other. Values are typically fairly abstract qualities. Norms give concrete prescriptions for how we can realize or promote values. For example, if honesty is a value, then researchers should refrain from overstating their conclusions and from downplaying the study limitations. We can thus say that norms derive from one or more values and that values give rise to norms. Virtues, in turn, are also conducive to the realization of more abstract values. If researchers possess virtues such as carefulness, thoroughness, and open-mindedness, this will be conducive to the acquisition of knowledge. Virtues are usually also fairly abstract and can be made concrete by specifying characteristic rules that follow from them. Although acting virtuously will typically mean that researchers follow rules for responsible conduct, it might occasionally mean that they not follow them to the letter, because possessing virtues also involves sensitivity to the limits of rules, to the different ways in which they might be interpreted, and to their spirit rather than their letter. So the first kind of pluralism in scientific codes of conduct is of a metaphysical sort: codes describe different kinds of things.
In what follows, we shall focus on norms. This is because they are more concrete: they prescribe or prohibit specific behavior. As a result of that, potential conflict, tension, or incommensurability between them is more perspicuous than with the more abstract and vague categories of values and virtues. This makes norms highly suited to bring out a second kind of pluralism in codes of conduct, stemming from different categories of values, virtues, and norms.