Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Responsible Conduct of Research in Australia

Greetings from the Great Hall of the Austrlaian National University in Canberra, where a Research Data Workshop on the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research by the Australian National Data Service (ANDS). There has been recent controversy over the distribution of climate change data. ANDS has been set up to help Australian researchers collect even larger collections of data online, so it is timely to have a look at the ethics of this. There will be a second workshop tomorrow on the services which ANDS provides.

ANDS has produced a short guide "Research data policy and the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research". This suggests institutions review policies on: Intellectual property (covering copyright, moral rights, patent), Data management (Storage, Retention, Disposal, Access), Conflict of interest, Collaboration and contractual agreements, Ethics and privacy and Compliance. Many of these issues are covered in my lecture notes on Metadata and Electronic Data Management.

At question time I asked if ANDS would require organisations contributing data to indicate if they comply with the code. The reason for this is that ANDS, by referring people to data sources take on an ethical and legal responsibility for what is done with that data. Even if there is no black letter law requiring the use of the code, the fact that it exists is likely to be taken into account by a court or other body assign the actions of researchers. Given that ANDS has endorsed the code, it would be difficult for ANDS to claim that the code does not apply to them. It would not be possible to say that the data ANDS refers people to is not ANDS data and they have no responsibility for it: by referring people to data ANDS takes on obligations. One way to discharge those obligations might be to record if the organisation providing the data complies to the code or another code. Data uses could then make an informed decision as to if they should use the data.

The code itself (Reference No: R39 508kbytes PDF, 41 pages) was published in 2007 by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), with help from the Australian Research Council and Universities Australia. There is also a Summary

Synopsis of publication:

The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research guides institutions and researchers in responsible research practices and promotes integrity in research for researchers. The Code shows how to manage breaches of the Code and allegations of research misconduct, how to manage research data and materials, how to publish and disseminate research findings, including proper attribution of authorship, how to conduct effective peer review and how to manage conflicts of interest. It also explains the responsibilities and rights of researchers if they witness research misconduct.

Developed jointly by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Research Council and Universities Australia, the Code has broad relevance across all research disciplines. It replaces the Joint NHMRC/AVCC Statement and Guidelines on Research Practice (1997).

Compliance with the Code is a prerequisite for receipt of National Health and Medical Research Council funding. ...

From: Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, NHMRC, 2007

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