Science Directions

The APA Science Directorate supports a vigorous program to promote ethical and responsible conduct of research. The Research Ethics Office provides a wealth of online resources, along with staffing support for APA's Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (CARE) and the Committee on Human Research (CHR).

Basic ethical standards and principles for research are an important part of APA's Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Section 8 of the Ethics Code covers research and publication, including such topics as informed consent, deception, humane care and use of animals, plagiarism, publication and data sharing. Additional resources and guidance are provided by the Office of Research Integrity in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A confluence of events brings renewed focus and attention to research ethics in psychology. Recent cases of data fabrication, efforts to revise the Common Rule (governing protection of human participants in research), and growing demands for data sharing are among the many issues creating pressure for psychology to devote even more attention to research ethics and responsible conduct of research.

The Monitor is doing its part through a new regular feature called "Ethically Speaking." In partnership with the Committee on Human Research, a series of brief articles will focus on topics in research ethics. The first article appeared in January, in which James M. DuBois, DSC, PhD, used fictional scenarios of plagiarism and data fabrication to explore cases of research misconduct. The lesson shared by DuBois is that although society tolerates the bending of social rules of conduct, it expects far stricter adherence to rules of proper research conduct.

In this month's installment of "Ethically Speaking" on page 54, Judy Illes, PhD, and Matthew P. Kirschen, MD, PhD, draw from neuroimaging and genetics research to highlight complex issues associated with incidental findings. Numerous ethical challenges occur in this area, where it is clear that successful resolution demands partnerships that extend beyond the psychologist's research laboratory. Future articles in this series will focus on team science, the use of digital technologies in research, and cognitive capacity to consent to participation in research. These are all topics with which researchers need to be familiar and for which ethical guidance is not always readily available.

The landscape of research ethics appears to be broadening and growing in complexity. This raises the question of whether we are doing enough to educate ourselves and to train our students in the responsible conduct of research. In a crowded curriculum, these issues often get squeezed into courses on research methods or as addenda to content courses. Training in research psychology should carry demonstrated competence in research ethics.

One challenge in this regard is the diversity of topics that fall within the rubric of research ethics. APA's own committee structure reflects some of that diversity, with separate committees to deal with animal research ethics (CARE) and human research ethics (CHR). As good disciplinary citizens, we all bear some responsibility for understanding the ethical issues across the field. Some of those are truly transdisciplinary, such as data sharing and data fabrication. It is easy to imagine how a broad research training curriculum for psychology would cover these issues.

Other topics in research ethics may apply idiosyncratically to subareas within psychology, where the relevance of ethical issues across the field may not always be appreciated. The obvious example is human research versus animal research, each of which carries almost independent sets of ethical challenges and bureaucratic oversight. Yet, as a discipline, even these seemingly separate subareas share deep goals. And increasingly, these areas come together in team-based efforts to address those shared goals.

The methods of psychology bring with them a rich array of ethical challenges. The preamble to APA's own Ethics Code asserts that "psychologists' work-related conduct requires a personal commitment and lifelong effort to act ethically." This is an important value for us and for our discipline.