What is responsible research in the context of open science?

Responsible research

Responsible conduct of research ensures that research is ethically acceptable and reliable, and its results credible (TENK, 2012). The Finnish National Board on Research Integrity (TENK) has published guidelines for the responsible conduct of research to which all Finnish universities have committed. Responsible conduct in the context of open science means that the data to be opened or the results to be openly published are produced according to the guidelines:

  • The research is planned and conducted according to standards set for scientific knowledge. The necessary permits have been acquired and ethical reviews conducted.
  • The data is recorded with integrity, meticulousness, and accuracy using ethically sustainable data acquisition methods.
  • The results are communicated in an open manner and honestly. Presenting and spreading false data or results (= misconduct) is forbitten.
  • Sources of financing and other conflicts of interests are reported openly when publishing the research results.
  • The achievements of other researchers are taken into account and informed openly. This applies to citing, acknowledging as well as determining of authorship.
  • The rights and responsibilities of researchers are openly discussed and agreed on before starting the research project. Good personnel and financial administration practices and the data protection legislation are applied during the research project.

In practice, the responsible conduct of research comprises everyday decisions and actions of researchers, who are always responsible for ensuring that their research is ethical.

The ethical principles of research include honesty, objectivity, integrity, carefulness, openness, intellectual property, confidentiality, responsible publishing, responsible mentoring, respect for colleagues, social responsibility, non-discrimination, competence, legality, animal care, and human subjects protection (Resnik, 2020).

How do these ethical principles relate to open science? Often, they are aligned and support each other. Practicing honesty, objectivity, integrity, and carefulness in every phase of research (i.e., planning, conducting, and reporting) ensures that the results and data to be opened are credible. This is a prerequisite for the further utilization of the data, and without it, the opening of data – and conducting research in general – would be meaningless.

Openness is an ethical principle as such. It refers to sharing data, results, ideas, and tools, as well as being open to criticism and new ideas. Acknowledging the source of information and crediting for contributions to research fulfill the ethical principle of protecting intellectual property. This also applies when extracting open data from the repositories to be included in a new research data set.

Social responsibility refers to the promotion of social good and preventing or mitigating social harms through research. A researcher can contribute to society by providing research findings openly e.g., for the basis of decision-making. After all, a majority of research funding comes from taxpayers’ pockets.

However, the ethical principles of protecting confidentiality and human subjects sometimes contradict with the principles of open science. It is not generally appropriate to publish the data of people who have participated in the research in a way that allows them to be identified. The degree of openness is determined on the basis of the data in question, taking into account both freedom of science and freedom of expression, and the protection of personal data and privacy. More about degrees of openness in Open research data.

Responsible and open research in practice

  • Guiding question: What kind of ethical issues are involved in my research and how do I take them into account?
  • Basically, every research project has ethical questions, which, especially in research involving human participants or personal data, might set restrictions on the openness of the data.
  • All scientific work must follow good scientific practice.
  • Research ethics could be defined to be “ethics of planning, conducting, and reporting of research”.
  • The research plan should address ethical risks and the intended methods for avoiding harm and damage, irrespective of whether or not the research undergoes an ethical review.
  • Ethical questions associated with research in the human sciences relate mainly to the interaction between researcher and research subject, which may involve unpredictable factors.
  • Ethics overlap with other issues in the research plan, such as the quality of data, data management and data protection.
  • Researchers are always responsible for ensuring that their research is ethical.

Essential ethics guidelines for research:

Ethical principles for research with human participants in Finland include guidelines for:

  • Treatment and rights of research participants
  • Research involving minors
  • Research involving people with limited capacity
  • Processing of personal data in research
  • Protecting privacy in research publications
  • Openness of research data

Further information: Guidelines by Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity

The above-mentioned principles are part of the self-regulation system of the scientific community in Finland. They guide research with human participants alongside the Finnish legislation.

Where research is carried out or data gathered outside Finland, the researchers must familiarise themselves with the ethical review practices in the target country.

Ethical review of research in Finland

Ethical review in Finland depends on whether the research is medical or in the scope of human sciences. Ethical review is carried out and a statement issued by ethics committees at a request of a researcher.

1. Ethical review in Medical research

  • Medical research seeks to understand, develop and apply ways of safeguarding and improving human health. Medical science is largely founded on clinical research and clinical trials conducted on human subjects. More info: Medical research ethics in Finland
  • In Finland, the legislation governing medical research includes Medical Research Act, Biobank Act, Act of the medical use of human organs, tissues and cells and Act on the Secondary Use of Health and Social Data (only available in Finnish). They include provisions on the protection and rights of research subjects and on the duties of official bodies associated with research activities.
  • According to the Medical Research Act, medical research means research involving an intervention in the integrity of a person, human embryo or human foetus for the purpose of increasing knowledge of health, the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases or the nature of diseases in general.
  • A preliminary ethical review is compulsory in all medical research. The prereview is predominantly based on legislation in force and other recognised ethical principles.
  • Medical ethics committees of hospital districts are responsible for ethical reviews of medical research. Each hospital district maintaining a university hospital should have at least one ethics committee.
  • National Committee on Medical Research Ethics TUKIJA is also responsible for issuing opinions on the ethics of clinical drug trials that are to be run in Finland, unless this task is delegated to a regional ethics committee.

2. Ethical review in Human sciences

A short video on the guidelines for ethical review in research with human participants

  • The ethical principles for research with human participants set by TENK serve as a starting point for ethical review work carried out by human sciences ethics committees.
  • They are intended for research designs where ethical reviews are not regulated separately in the Medical Research Act. Besides humanities and social sciences, these research designs include research with human participants in the natural sciences and technology, in artistic research, and, in some cases, also in non-invasive health or medical research.
  • An ethical review examines the data collection plan and the intended research method from the perspective of avoiding risk and potential harm. It also examines the documents drawn up for informing research participants and obtaining consent. Additionally, data management plans and processions of personal data are examined.
  • An ethical review has to be carried out prior to gathering data, if the research contains one or more of the following factors:
      1. Participation in the research deviates from the principle of informed consent.
      2. Research involves intervening in the physical integrity of research participants.
      3. The focus of the research is on minors under the age of 15, without separate consent from a parent or carer or without informing a parent or carer in a way that would enable them to prevent the child’s participation in the research.
      4. Research that exposes participants to exceptionally strong stimuli.
      5. Research that involves a risk of causing mental harm that exceeds the limits of normal daily life to the research participants or their family members or others closest to them.
      6. Conducting the research could involve a threat to the safety of participants or researchers or their family members or others closest to them.

An ethical review statement may also be requested when a funding body, collaborative partner, research object or publisher so requests.

UEF guidelines for requesting an ethical review statement

Find out whether you need a permit for your research!

  • Additionally, research permits may be needed. Find out whether you need a permit for your research from the target organisation from which research subjects are recruited.
  • The research permit process and the grounds for permits being granted vary depending on the organisation.
  • Researchers should familiarise themselves with the research permit processes of potential target organisations, such as municipalities and hospital districts, and check, e.g. the time taken to process applications.

Remember:

  • The researcher is always responsible for ensuring that their research is ethically and responsibly conducted.
  • Openness is an ethical principle as such. Open science is a precondition for critical evaluation and the scientific progress.
  • The degree of openness is determined on the basis of the data in question, taking into account both freedom of science and freedom of expression, and the protection of personal data and privacy.

(7/2021 KH)