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Good scientific practices

FAPESP launches code to preserve the integrity of research

CSA IMAGES / GETTYIMAGESFAPESP has just released its Código de boas práticas científicas [Code of good scientific practices], a set of ethical guidelines for the professional activities of researchers that receive grants and funding from this Foundation. The document, which is the first of its kind to be launched by a Brazilian promotion agency, organizes standards that, in many cases ,were already part of the routine of the Foundation and of many research institutions, such as the need for researchers and evaluators to divulge conflicts of interest or the importance of continuing to keep research records after the work is published. Concerning other aspects, the code determines standard practices that can give rise to diverging interpretations. Regarding how to indicate who the authors of a scientific paper are, for example, it established that only those that have made direct and substantial intellectual contributions to the design and execution of the research are to be included. It also clarifies that providing financial and infrastructure resources “is insufficient grounds for  being listed as one of the authors of work resulting from this research.”

The code is based on the principle that every scientist is ethically responsible for the progress of science and should embrace a conduct of “intellectual honesty, objectiveness and impartiality, truthfulness, fairness and responsibility.” “There is a rising tendency to work on the idea of good conduct practices, within the social, economic and cultural spheres,” said FAPESP’s president, Celso Lafer. “Since the research activity has expanded a lot in the last few years, it became necessary to make the expected standards of conduct more explicit,” he stated.

036-037_BoasPraticas_188The drawing up of the code took into account the international experienced accrued regarding the issue of the ethical integrity of research. The codes of conduct and the procedure manuals of the following organizations were used as a reference: the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, of the United States; the Research Councils UK, of the United Kingdom; the European Science Foundation; and the Australian promotional agencies. The code started being discussed internally in the Foundation about one year ago. To lend this debate some foundation, a working document dealing with the experience of other countries was drawn up by Luiz Henrique Lopes dos Santos, a professor at the Department of Philosophy of the School of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences of USP, FAPESP’s joint coordinator of Human and Social Sciences, and scientific coordinator of the Pesquisa FAPESP magazine. Called “Sobre a integridade ética da pesquisa” [On ethical integrity in research], the text provides an international overview of the issue and indicates that there are three types of approach. One, encompassing countries such as Brazil and France, has no systematic promotion and prevention policies, no permanent mechanisms for dealing with the issue. The second one covers countries such as the United States, Norway and Denmark, where there is a structure coordinated by organizations that have power and duties, legally mandated. As for the third, it encompasses countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, where there are no organizations in charge of regulating and supervising activities pertaining to research integrity, but where the national promotion agencies have undertaken regulatory functions.

Two months ago, the final format of the code was approved by FAPESP’s Board of Trustees. Subsequently, it was presented to and discussed with the Deans of Research of the three São Paulo State universities and with representatives of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) and of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, who took to the initiative well. “FAPESP aims to make a contribution so that we may have in the research community of the state of São Paulo an increasingly solid culture of ethical integrity in research. This is a global concern,” said Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the Foundation’s scientific director.

The code establishes that research institutions whose projects are financed by the Foundation must include in their organizational chart instances in charge of both promoting the ethical integrity culture via regular education , dissemination and training programs, and investigating and, if necessary, punishing, potentially poor scientific conduct, making amends for the scientific damage caused. “Our objective is to develop a culture of valuing good practice, based on three pillars: education, prevention and investigation, with fair and rigorous penalties,” said Brito Cruz. In the area of education, the institutions will be expected to hold courses, workshops and other activities to keep an ongoing discussion of good practice in the agenda of students and researchers. “The issue of education is fundamental, because ethics education is inseparable from scientific education,” said Luiz Henrique Lopes dos Santos. “It isn’t always trivial and it often requires scientific examination, to distinguish which data are relevant and which data are not relevant in order to confirm or not a scientific hypothesis, when it comes to establishing whether a given article describes faithfully all the relevant data that applies to the degree of corroboration proposed for its hypothesis,” he stated.

Regarding prevention, the objective is to ensure that researchers and advisors, when they have doubts in the face of concrete situations, are backed by the institution to solve them – and that eventual accusations may be received without their authors being vulnerable to retaliation. The types of poor conduct that are the most typical and frequent, according to the document, are data fabrication, falsifying information, presenting information imprecisely or incompletely, to the point of interfering with conclusions, and plagiarism, defined as using the ideas or formulations of another party without giving due credit for them. Allegations of poor scientific conduct should be investigated by the institutions, which should first conduct a preliminary evaluation, in 30 days at most. If the evidence is consistent, a formal investigation process should be instituted. The accused parties are to be notified and FAPESP warned about the allegation. The investigation should be completed within 90 days at most, during which evidence, testimonials and technical opinions should be obtained, with broad defense rights. If the final report is considered unsatisfactory, FAPESP may conduct a new investigation. The punitive measures that the Foundation may impose include, among others, sending a letter of reprehension to the parties that engaged in poor conduct, temporary suspension of the right to apply for FAPESP grants and funding, and refunding FAPESP for the funding provided for the research connected to the problems in question.