Responding to Challenges in Educating for the Responsible Conduct of Research

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The importance of responsible conduct of research (RCR) is widely recognized, but the necessary role for RCR education is limited by three significant challenges. First, the stated goals and purpose of RCR education are diverse, inconsistent, and sometimes not feasible. RCR is variably defined as knowing and following the rules, being a moral person, having good character, exhibiting good ethical judgment, and acting with integrity and responsibility. However, a case can be made that the long-term goals of RCR education can be reduced simply to decreasing research misconduct and increasing responsible conduct. A second challenge is that the methods for fostering RCR are unclear because the relationship between the goals and role of education has been unclear. To reconcile goals with feasible objectives, it is proposed that the focus of RCR education can be limited to three specific purposes: empowering trainees to respond to the ethical challenges raised in the conduct of research, increasing awareness of the purpose and value of ethical decision making as well as the roles and responsibilities of whistleblowers, and fostering a positive attitude about promoting an environment that values RCR. The third and final challenge is that a lack of dedicated financial support has decreased the likelihood that thoughtful, successful RCR programs can be developed. One means proposed to address the challenges of goals, methods, and strategies is a recently created national partnership, the RCR Education Committee (RCREC), a special interest group of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics.

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