Good research flourishes in a culture that is characterized by independence and integrity. Many depend on such integrity. University medical centres have a responsibility to society and patients. By means of scientific research, they aim to contribute significantly and distinctively to improving health and healthcare. Thus, users of scientific knowledge should be able to trust that what is studied rightly adds to the body of knowledge. Researchers themselves also benefit from a culture of integrity and constructive mutual relationships: if they can trust their colleagues worldwide, they will feel free to cooperate in a fruitful manner and will cherish creativity. Similarly, a research institute and the academic community as a whole are dependent on their reliability and honesty in the eyes of society.
In its European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, the European Science Foundation (www.esf.org) specifies the following principles:
- Honesty in presenting research goals and intentions, in precise and nuanced reporting on research methods and procedures, and in conveying valid interpretations and justifiable claims with respect to possible applications of research results;
- Reliability in performing research (meticulous, careful and attentive to detail) and in communicating the results (fair, full and unbiased reporting);
- Objectivity: interpretations and conclusions must be founded on facts and data that can be substantiated and withstand secondary review; there should be transparency in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data, and verifiability of the scientific reasoning;
- Impartiality and independence: independent of commissioning or interested parties, ideological or political pressure groups, and economic or financial interests;
- Open communication in discussing the work with other scientists, in contributing to public knowledge through publication of the findings, and when communicating with the general public. This openness presupposes the proper storage and availability of data and their accessibility for interested colleagues;
- Duty of care for participants in and the subjects of research, be they human beings, animals, the environment or cultural objects. Research on human subjects and animals should always rest on the principles of respect and duty of care;
- Fairness in providing proper references and giving due credit to the work of others, and in treating colleagues with integrity and honesty;
- Responsibility for future generations of scientists. The education of young scientists and scholars requires binding standards for mentorship and supervision.
In order to consistently promote, facilitate and ensure that scientific research is conducted according to these principles in and across the university medical centres in Amsterdam, this joint Research Code was established on behalf of the executive boards of the Academic Medical Center (AMC) and the VU University medical center (VUmc). This code aims to be a stepping stone between the general principles outlined above and the specificities of daily scientific practice. It was prepared by experienced investigators and expert support staff members from both alliance partners. The Research Code covers the main issues in conducting medical, biomedical and health research. The focus is on good mentorship, respect for research subjects, good clinical and laboratory practices, data handling, collaboration with external partners and external parties, ownership of research findings, authorship, dealing with the media, conflicts of interest, the prevention of scientific misconduct, and what to do when scientists do not work according to the established rules and regulations.
This Research Code applies to all units operating within the AMC and the VUmc organizations. All scientific practitioners – from principal investigators to junior researchers, as well as research support staff – should know of this code and be familiar with its content. This Research Code is, however, not a research handbook, nor a ‘cookbook’ covering all regulations in detail. Instead, and because the process of evolving possibilities and questions is crucial in scientific research, the code provides a framework to guide researchers in living up to the values of independence and integrity. It introduces the main relevant issues and topics, and where useful or necessary refers to further reading. By making clear the conduct that is expected and considered effective, this code contributes to an atmosphere of openness and a culture in which doing research is an enjoyable and productive experience.
The Research Code is not a fixed and definite document. Both science and scientific conduct develop and innovate. For example, biomedical and health research are increasingly dependent on multidisciplinary collaborations – frequently in large, often international consortia that include public–private partnerships – that use extensive data from a variety of sources. Such developments will most probably necessitate further changes to the Research Code. In the same vein, emerging technological possibilities, cultural norms about privacy and safety, changing legal frameworks and new modes of scientific communication urge us to constantly rethink how researchers can maintain their scientific integrity. This Research Code is therefore a living document that will be updated on a regular basis. The most up-to-date version can be accessed on the intranet at Research/Researchcode.
The AMC–VUmc editorial team