14 March 2018

WEF: Code of Ethics for Researchers

Engaging with the public means having an open two-way communication about science and the implications of research, as well as its need for society. Such communication involves active, objective and unbiased listening, discussing and questioning by both parties to enable the transfer of scientific knowledge into public wisdom. Indeed, researchers have a responsibility to engage in public discourse with all members of society and to make science more accessible. In return, the public will be more inclined to listen to, question and trust scientists.
Pursuing the truth means following the research where it leads, rather than confirming an already formed opinion. This is particularly challenging but necessary when questioning current beliefs. The discovered truth must be confirmed and verified by peers, which requires transparency and reproducibility in all steps of the research and publication, in the methods used and by providing access to raw data. Results must be represented accurately without over- or understatement, hiding facts and/or drawbacks, or misleading the reader in any way. They must be based on evidence and observations, rather than on preconceived truths or biases. 
Minimizing harm means that research inevitably carries some risk and, while it may be impossible to eliminate it, researchers can minimize harm to science, to others, to the environment, to society and to themselves. Despite the risk, society accords scientists extraordinary privileges to pursue research, and thus they have a duty to safeguard society against excess risk by taking steps to foresee, acknowledge and prevent harmful investigation. Every researcher must consider each experiment’s potential to cause harm and evaluate whether the generated knowledge can be detrimental to society.

Engaging with decision-makers means going beyond developing solutions, conducting experiments and publishing data. Situations arise in which there is an ethical responsibility to engage with decision-makers, for instance to understand the impact of climate change on populations. Other situations exist in which research is only possible by engaging with decision-makers, for example to access government or corporate data sets, facilities or resources. This engagement may be at any or all stages of the research process as needed.

Supporting diversity means providing an environment in which the ideas of all are evaluated equally, regardless of individual characteristics, on the basis of evidence. Diversity is not simply the representation of individuals and ideas but is actual inclusion, which can only be achieved by creating a culture of openness and recognizing and addressing unconscious bias. Achieving this representation may require seeking out participation from under-represented groups, while ensuring that the research process and its outcomes do not negatively affect particular groups.

Being a mentor means trusting and empowering less experienced researchers, especially during the early stages of their careers, to help them reach their professional goals and realize their full potential. It means creating an environment of trust and respect for all individuals in the scientific workplace, being available when needed and devoting time to listen to and address the concerns of mentees. Mentoring aims to communicate experience and values in a trusted and confidential environment.

Being accountable means taking responsibility for one’s actions when carrying out research and raising a red flag if one’s commitments are at risk, taking corrective steps when necessary. Scientists have a moral but also financial responsibility to answer questions raised by society, a core funder of research. They must use resources efficiently, not being wasteful and focusing on overall social welfare in all actions. Trusted to guide and educate individuals, researchers must serve as examples of ethical behaviour for their students and society. They also have a duty to secure this trust and hold each other accountable for research results.



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