Glossary of Terms and Concepts

DEFINITIONS OF TERMS AND CONCEPTS: It is essential that the understanding of terms and concepts related to research ethics and scientific integrity is shared across all these communities of interest. The Framework includes a glossary of terms and concepts drawing upon the existing literature and pointing to the key dilemmas to be addressed. The terms and concepts are listed in alphabetical order for ease of access – this does not imply any other form of priority. Note these terms might have different meaning or applications in different contexts. Their use here is in relation to the maintenance of ethical research practices. The definitions we supply are based on a lengthy consensus process agreement. Their use is based first on consensus amongst PRO-RES consortium partners and then on agreement with a representative sample of stakeholders.

Further recommendations of useful sources for definitions of terms and concepts can be found at the end of this glossary.

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Academic Freedom

This is freedom for individuals within the academy, rather than the autonomy of academic institutions within society, although the two are linked. While the precise meaning and boundaries of the term are contested, it describes an expectation that individual academics will be able freely to determine a range of matters in relation to teaching, research, and self-governance, protected by legal guarantees of secure and continuing employment. In exercising these freedoms, academics have a responsibility to follow the ethical and integrity values and standards established by their colleagues, peer associations, institutions and, where relevant, professional regulators. Again, the translation of these values into operational standards may be disputed.

The European universities’ Magna Charta Universitatum (1988) declares: ‘Freedom in research and training is the fundamental principle of university life, and governments and universities, each as far as in them lies, must ensure respect for this fundamental requirement’. The European Charter for Researchers (2005) recognises research freedom as ‘the freedom of thought and expression, and the freedom to identify methods by which problems are solved, according to recognised ethical principles and practices’, albeit within institutional, financial and legal constraints.

This freedom is seen as central to the role of the university as a protected space where a search for innovation and scientific truth can be carried out without fearing the impact of external interests or hierarchies. It is, however, conditional upon the acceptance of a responsibility to engage in that search and to exclude those external concerns (Dingwall 2016).


Accountability applies to both individuals and institutions. It means taking responsibility for your actions rather than trying to shift responsibility (or blame) elsewhere. This involves being able to explain the reasons behind your actions when necessary, and being prepared to discuss your actions and their consequences. It implies a willingness to accept and act on criticism of your actions where that is justified. Accountability is a central principle of Indigenous research axiology [see also Axiology and Transparency].

Acknowledge (and failure to)

Give appropriate credit to someone for their ideas or effort that have contributed to a project (or fail to do so). [See also Authorship.] ‘Appropriate credit’ varies by discipline. For example, in psychology, people who have contributed to a research project may be listed as authors of an article about the findings even if they have done no work on the article itself. In social sciences, authors are generally listed in approximate order of amount of work done on the article, while in economics they are listed in alphabetical order (which has been shown to disadvantage female co-authors in some social sciences (Sarsons 2017). There is considerable anecdotal evidence of doctoral supervisors failing to acknowledge the work of their students (e.g. Guardian 2015).


Researchers have responsibilities after a project is completed (Kara 2018). It is not easy to define the end of a research project: is it when the funding has all been spent, or when the last meeting has been held, or the last output published? Whenever the end point is, researchers continue to be responsible for participants’ welfare. This includes helping them when necessary and relevant to the research: for example, if a participant requests amendment to, or removal of, a digitally published output years or decades later. Researchers must ensure that data are stored appropriately and that, as far as possible, findings are taken up and used [see also Application]. Researchers also have responsibilities for their own self-care (see Safety).


Granting to participants or others the right to have their name and other identifying details withheld from third parties. Committees or boards that grant ethics approval usually require researchers to maintain participants’ anonymity. However, this is not always ethical in itself. For example, Kristen Perry (2011), who worked with Sudanese refugees in America, found they became upset and angry when she told them she would use pseudonyms for them in her publications. On further investigation, she found that the repressive majority regime in Sudan would force name changes on people from the minority. While anonymity is appropriate in many, if not most, cases, some research participants may have compelling reasons for wanting to be named. These should be recognized and respected.

If you need to know more about how to anonymise personal data, go to:

Application (of findings)

Putting research findings to use in professional or other practice or public policy. This is generally regarded as ethical because it maximises use of the resources expended on conducting the research. These resources are both those of the funders and those of the participants, whether in time, materials or goodwill. However, researchers should also seek to ensure that research findings are applied in ethical ways (see also Aftercare).


The agreement of someone not deemed able to give consent due to, for example, youth or cognitive impairment [see also Consent]. This contains the implication that a parent or a carer will always be better able to give consent than a child or a patient. However, that may not be the case if the parent or carer’s own judgement is impaired due to, for example, substance misuse, side-effects of prescription drugs, or severe mental illness (Bray 2014). Young children, those with cognitive impairment, and others, may be able to give consent if they are asked in a way that they can understand (Alderson and Morrow 2011).


A type of research that aims to reveal the efficiency, effectiveness or quality of an institution, community, or other entity by examining its use of resources and assets relative to costs and outputs. Although this stance has been contested (Gawande 2007), audit is generally not thought to require ethics regulation because it is being conducted for internal organizational processes of accountability or quality assurance. However, it presents similar ethical issues to other types of research and these should be taken into account. Additional ethical problems can arise when audit moves from being a tool of measurement to a tool of manipulation, as in the ‘audit culture’ where audit becomes ‘a central organizing principle in the governance and management of human conduct’ (Shore 2008).


The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors recommended four conditions for authorship:

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  • Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

These conditions can be breached either because someone with insignificant involvement has been added (gift, honorary or prestige authorship) or because those who made significant contributions have been omitted (ghost authorship). In the case of ghost authorship, this might be because a junior staff member’s labour is being exploited, or because the real author seeks to conceal his or her responsibility (for example, when a pharmaceutical company funds a trial and attributes the results to an apparently independent researcher). (see also Acknowledge)


“The capacity of a person to govern him or herself, on the basis of reasoned decisions and free from controlling influences by others. Autonomy is widely held to involve the capacity for reason and understanding, a degree of self-control, and freedom from coercion and manipulation” (Hughes et al 2010).

As a principle, autonomy is, in general, highly valued in European and other Western countries, while collectivity is valued more highly in the global South (Kara 2018). The implication of this for ethical research practice in Euro-Western settings is that the autonomy of participants and other stakeholders should be respected. In other settings, researchers may need to make a judgement about the implications of respecting collective values, as expressed by community leaders, on hearing views from other members, who may be marginalized or disadvantaged by current arrangements. (see also Principlism)


The branch of philosophy that includes ethics. Axiology ‘refers to the analysis of values to better understand their meanings, characteristics, their purpose, their acceptance as true knowledge, and their influence on people’s daily experiences. It is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of ethics, aesthetics, and religion, where religion encompasses spirituality (Lincoln, Lynham and Guba, 2011), and their role in the construction of knowledge.’ (Chilisa 2012) (See also Accountability)


Acting to create benefit. Under the influence of biomedical research models, this is generally seen as benefit for participants. However, creating benefit is not straightforward. There is almost always some risk of harm to research participants, however hard researchers may work to minimise or mitigate that risk. Research participation that does not benefit an individual may nevertheless benefit their group, community or society through its findings and learning or knowledge generated from them. Researchers must assess the potential for beneficence to individual participants and other stakeholders, to their communities, and to wider societies and cultures. (University of Wollongong 2011) (see also Principlism)


“A bias is a tendency, inclination, or prejudice toward or against something or someone.”( Psychology Today 2019) Biases can be positive, such as a bias towards caring for others or away from crime. However, biases tend to be based on assumptions rather than evidence or logical thought. This means that bias can lead to poor judgement and discriminatory action. A combination of individual biases and other factors can lead to structural biases, such as the well-known publication bias towards positive research findings. There are two main ways in which individual researchers can tackle bias: Debiasing and Reflexivity. (see also Cognitive Bias)


Bullying is generally defined for research purposes as the frequent, persistent and hostile harassment or intimidation of someone less powerful (Samnani and Singh 2012). However, definitions of bullying can vary between cultures. (Boynton 2017). Bullying is prevalent in workplaces, including educational institutions at all levels (Boynton 2017): almost 95% of employees report some experience of workplace bullying over a five-year period (Fox and Stallworth 2005). People are more likely to be victims of bullying if they have a disability, are from a minority ethnic background, or are LGBTIQ+ (Boynton 2017).Bullying should be distinguished from the clear expression of legitimate and relevant concerns about work performance. Academic Freedom claims can result in any attempt to ensure accountability for time and resources being defined as ‘bullying’.


Having concern for someone’s wellbeing; expressing that concern; taking steps to help someone maintain or improve their wellbeing. In relation to ethics, the ‘ethics of care’ refers to making sure all participants and other stakeholders are cared for during the research process and beyond. This is often set in opposition to ethics of justice, which operates by aiming to treat everyone equally, while ethics of care implies treating everyone according to their needs. However, Edwards and Mauthner (2012) drawing on the work of Sevenhuijsen (1998) have demonstrated that ethics of justice and ethics of care can be seen as part of a single process.

Cognitive bias

A particular kind of Bias denoting automatic and replicable errors in thinking (Kara 2018). Over 100 kinds of cognitive bias have been defined, some of which are relevant to researchers. Examples include: sameness error, i.e. thinking things are the same (e.g. for women and for men) when they’re not (Chilisa 2012); Berkson’s paradox, i.e. two values appear to have a positive correlation when in fact they are negatively correlated; belief bias, i.e. giving more credence to one’s personal beliefs than to facts, data, or findings. Cognitive biases can be counteracted by Debiasing.


A unifying activity of working with another or others to produce something together for mutual and wider benefit in which collaborators are united in a common enterprise and use a common identity to achieve shared goals. Collaboration among researchers usually involves joint conceptualisation of aims and methods, management and communication, accountability, outcomes and authorship. These are spelled out in more detail in the Montreal Statement (2013) (see also Cooperation)


Often referred to as a virtue, a deep awareness of, concern for and sensitivity to the suffering or misfortune of another or others, and a motivation to help them. The suffering or misfortune is of a kind that can be readily understood and identified by the person who experiences compassion (Strauss et al. 2016). Beyond interest in compassion as a research topic, its relevance may lie in the effects on researchers who themselves experience compassion. As a result, they may be exposed to the risks of compassion fatigue (Newell 2010) and to losing clarity about their role in a project.

Conflicts of interest

Conflicts of interest occur when personal, financial, political and academic concerns co-exist and the potential exists for one interest to be illegitimately favoured over another that has equal or even greater legitimacy, in a way that might make other reasonable people feel misled or deceived. Conflicts of interest reside in a situation not in behaviour and may arise even when there has not been research misconduct. Researchers caught in a conflict of interest risk appearing negligent, incompetent or deceptive. There is little clear guidance of when to declare and how to manage competing interests. Conflicts of interest also exist at an institutional level, where research organizations accept funding from sources that may appear to compromise the independence and integrity of their research.

It has been proposed that conflicts of interest can be managed by applying one or other of the ‘6Rs’ depending upon the seriousness of the conflict:

Register – declaring the perceived, potential or actual conflict may be sufficient to adequately mitigate or manage the conflict.

Removal – dissociation from the situation or potential conflict.

Restricted – limit involvement in the situation or conflict.

Recruitment – of an independent third party to oversee part or all of the process.

Relinquishing – disinvest an interest which is ongoing, unacceptable and/or likely to damage a reputation.

Resigning – from the role which implicates one in the conflict (a last resort).


A legal and ethical obligation imposed on the recipient of information provided by another person (the provider) not to use that information for any purpose other than that for which the information was provided. The obligation can arise from a relationship or from a contract and applies to all information that is provided and that is not publicly available, whether or not the information identifies the provider. The relationships that are recognised to involve the obligation are typically between professionals and clients or patients.

Although it is not settled whether the relationship between research and research participants, of itself, involves the same obligation, researchers commonly define the degree of confidentiality that will be offered as a term of consent for participation. Researchers need to be aware of the possibilities not only of external confidentiality (as described in this entry) but also of internal confidentiality, that is, the inadvertent disclosure of information among research participants.

The obligation can be superseded by the need to use the information to serve a public interest, such as the protection of children, prevention of the spread of infectious disease, the conduct of court proceedings and the investigation of serious criminal offences. In such circumstances, researchers can be compelled to disclose information that was collected in confidence. (see also Privacy; Public Interest; Transparency)


Agreement to take part in research. This should be based on an understanding of the research project and its aims [see also Informed Consent and Free, Prior and Informed Consent]. In theory consent should be freely given or withheld, as the potential participant prefers. In practice some research, such as national censuses in some countries, is mandatory and those who do not participate may be punished (Kara 2018). The granting of consent is often treated as an event, where in fact it is more of a process that is negotiated and renegotiated as research progresses. Indeed, in some cases renegotiation may be essential, such as in research with people with cognitive impairment or in longitudinal research. (see also Dignity and Respect).


A connective activity among individuals or groups whose contributions are complementary, where participants are all working to achieve the goal for their own benefit. This might occur, for example, by dividing portions of a research project among contributors for each to complete the assigned portion of the project individually. Those who cooperate remain separately identifiable, may begin and end their involvement at different times and their contributions do not necessarily have a shared identity. (see also Collaboration)


Although corruption is the focus of international policies and strategies for its elimination, such as the UN Convention against Corruption (United Nations 2003) and the European Commission’s (2019) summary of its policy, it is a complex concept and difficult to define with precision. In practice, corruption can take the form of bribery, nepotism or misappropriation.

Common elements of conceptual definitions include the exercise of a public duty for a benefit provided to the duty holder by a person who gains a reciprocal benefit from the wrongful exercise of the duty of that duty holder; dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery. Other definitions focus on the abuse of a trust, generally involving public power, for private gain usually in the form of money or on exclusion from an opportunity to participate in open, competitive, and fair political and economic processes (Johnston, 1996). Another recurrent element is that corruption is consciously unfair or discriminatory and permits persons holding power to decide without competition, and through covert considerations, who gets what he or she wants or needs (Rotberg, 2017).

Corruption can be equated with injustice. If justice is what is expected from political leaders and governments, then corruption can mean unjust actions committed by them. This applies with most force to public goods: the central notion of which is that they are to be managed and distributed by principles different from those applying to the distribution of private goods – which can be distributed according to the wishes of those who manage them. Distributing public goods in similar ways as private goods is seen as corruption (Rothstein, 2017).

In the research context, using these approaches to definition, any public process for the determination of funding agencies’ research subject priorities, the funding of research or the scientific or ethical approval of research can be vulnerable to corruption.

Individual and teams of researchers may also be bribed to amend or distort their research. Such conduct could be described as corrupt where the briber benefits reciprocally and if it is accepted that the responsible conduct of research is a public good. (see also Conflict of Interest.)


Processes that aim to identify and remove biases that are likely to affect the way that research is formulated, conducted and reported. For researchers, de-biasing involves accepting, detecting, analysing and changing personal biases in their formulation and conduct of research. For participants in research, de-biasing involves detecting, analysing and adopting strategies to minimise the effects of biases in participants that may lead to distortions in recruitment and participation. Such processes are only ever partially successful. Some Cognitive Biases (see above) can themselves act as impediments to debiasing (Kara 2018) (see also Bias)


The action or practice of wilfully or recklessly concealing or misrepresenting the truth or material facts with an intent to mislead. In research, knowingly concealing facts that are material to the approval of research, especially as to relevant prior research, in seeking research funding or ethics approval or knowingly concealing or misrepresenting relevant risks from potential participants could all be described as deceit.


A belief in freedom and equality between people or a system of government based on this belief in which power is either held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves. Democracy can be an important contextual factor for the conduct of research. The 2012 Resolution of the Brazilian National Council on Health links the national constitution to the conduct of research. Researchers have commented on the ethical dilemmas in conducting research in less democratic countries. (Wackenhut 2018)


The intrinsic importance and value that a person has, that warrants respect from other people and for themselves; having a state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect. This short definition reflects the two historical and conceptual origins: the theological idea of inherent human value and the humanist idea of the respect owed to a rational being. (See Rosen, pp. 1-62).

These elements are also reflected in research. The inherent value of human beings informs the obligation of researchers to minimise risks to research participants while the respect owed to rational beings is the basis for requirements about consent to participation. In her rejection of the value of the concept, Macklin (2003) argues that it means no more than respect for human beings. This position, by focussing on only one of the sources of the term, ignores the theological contribution of ‘inherent human value’ that is relevant to assessing the risks that research may pose for participants and its effects on other humans. (see also Autonomy and Consent).


The acts and processes of distributing and sharing widely results, outcomes, findings and information gained through research, in order to contribute to knowledge or practice or to serve a public good. This may, but need not necessarily, take the form of Open Access channels, depending upon the nature of the output and the relevant intellectual property rights of its creators. Dissemination may take the form of publication in peer-reviewed journals or books, conference presentations, commissioned reviews for public bodies, blogging or social media, public lectures or dialogues, or creative works in accordance with the policies, culture and traditions of the research discipline and any other relevant stakeholders. Risks to individuals, groups or populations from dissemination of research outcomes could justify withholding, postponing or limiting dissemination. These must be weighed against the public benefit of dissemination.


The motto of the European Union, “united in diversity” signifies how Europeans from many different cultures, traditions and languages have come together to work for peace and prosperity. It is the leading example of the central sense of the term as the situation resulting from many different types of people being included in a whole. More generally, the term may refer to the inclusion of people with different ethnic heritages, socio-economic origins, genders, sexual orientations, geographical locations, demographic characteristics or other socio-cultural markers of difference. Diversity may be a consideration in considering both research participation and research teams.

Where the aims of a research project include drawing conclusions from a sample that will be relevant for other populations, evidence of the extent and nature of diversity in the sample population will be an important consideration. This will require recognition that traditional inclusion criteria have often excluded children, women, women of child-bearing age, prisoners, undocumented immigrants and people with physical, intellectual or emotional disabilities (Mertens and Ginsberg 2009). In some circumstances, of course, diversity will not be essential, as in case control studies, or where the focus is on problems, like thalassemia or sickle cell anaemia, that only affect specific population groups.

Diversity may also be a consideration in determining whether a research team is appropriately constituted for the task, particularly where it is necessary to engage with minority communities or other groups who may be underrepresented within the researcher workforce.

Dual use

Research that, based on current understanding, can reasonably be anticipated to provide knowledge, information, products, or technologies that could be used to present a threat to public health and safety, plants, animals, the natural environment, or national security. Although more commonly associated with technological or medical research, the concept has been shown to apply to life science (Selgelid 2009), ICT (Rodrigues 2015) and social science research. An example of the latter might be the placement of anthropologists with troops in the field in the controversial human terrain system conducted by the United States Army (Gonzalez 2018). An alternative view on dual use and the work of social scientists alongside the military is offered by Durkin (2015). See also the European Commission (n.d) guidance note for participants in Horizon 2020 projects.

Due process

A citizen’s fair treatment in conformity with the principles. rules and processes of a democratic state’s legal system, including the right to a hearing before administrative action, the right of access to essential facts; the right to legal advice, the duty of administrative decision-makers to give reasons for decisions and to indicate the possibilities for legal challenge to decisions.

More narrowly, the course of formal proceedings (such as legal proceedings) that is carried out regularly and in accordance with established rules and principles, the judicial requirement that enacted laws may not contain provisions that result in the unfair, arbitrary, or unreasonable treatment of an individual.

In research, due process can refer to following the principles of fair treatment in the processes of application and decision-making for research grants, in the processes of obtaining clearance for projects from Research Ethics Committees or similar bodies, or in the processes for identifying and investigating research misconduct.

Duplicate and redundant publication

Publishing two or more papers that share exactly the same hypothesis or question, data, discussion and conclusions, or present little or no new material (see also Self-plagiarism).

In the social sciences, it may be appropriate to publish similar materials in journals with different readerships so that findings receive appropriate dissemination (see also Dissemination). This is particularly important when social scientists are working within interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary teams, seeking to reach professional audiences through publication in professional journals, or are communicating with a new audience through another language. Such duplication should be acknowledged through relevant self-citation (see Self-citation).

Editorial misconduct

Editors have responsibility for running their review processes fairly and reaching publication decisions impartially (see also Due Process). This requires them to declare their own conflicts of interest and manage the conflicts of others. Editorial misconduct may include: failing to use appropriate review processes where necessary, or misrepresenting whether a paper has been reviewed; unfairly favouring their own publications or those of colleagues, students or former students or family; failing to notify the relevant institutions or correct the record once evidence of research misconduct becomes apparent. Editors may also engage in misconduct if they coerce, or allow the coercion, of authors to add citations that reference the editor, the journal or a cartel of other journals; stack editorials with citations to that journal; swap citations within a cartel of journals.


The word has a number of meanings. In the research context, it usually refers to arrangements or distributions that are proportional to contribution or desert and, in these senses, fair. An equitable arrangement may also treat individuals equally, where their contributions or deserts are equal, but equity is more often equated with fairness than equality. In research, ordering the list of authors in proportion to the extent or significance of their contribution would be an example of equitable treatment of members of a research team.


The state and practices of living in an ideal situation of being healthy, happy, and prosperous, arising from and maintained by actions that result in that state of individual well-being. This definition attempts to capture the overlapping senses of the word when originally used by Aristotle. That word referred as much to the practices of life as to the ideal state of living. While this is sometimes proposed as a goal for all research, that it should contribute towards the achievement of an ideal condition for humanity, it is not clear that there is, or could be, sufficient agreement on what the key terms mean when they have to be translated from abstractions into actual living conditions.

Exclusion criteria

‘A set of predefined definitions that is used to identify subjects who will not be included or who will have to withdraw from a research study after being included’ (Velasco 2010). Inclusion and exclusion criteria are used to determine who is eligible and can be selected to participate in a research project. Inclusion and exclusion criteria should be based on both methodological and ethical grounds (see also Diversity).

Poor choices of inclusion and exclusion criteria may unfairly distribute the harms and benefits of research, leading to exploitation of vulnerable populations or the inability for the benefits of research to be applied to particular populations.

Similar issues may arise in literature or systematic reviews where the choices of exclusion and inclusion criteria can inappropriately shape the results. Unexamined assumptions about a ‘hierarchy of methods’ are often responsible for this, rather than considering the fit between problems and the methods by which they might best be investigated. (See Inclusion Criteria)


‘Making up data or results and recording or reporting them’ (Office of Research Integrity 2000). Fabricated data do not exist at all but have been invented or created by the researcher. (see also Falsification).


The UK Medical Research Council (1997) used to include ‘facilitating of misconduct by collusion in, or concealment of, such actions by others’ in its definition of scientific misconduct. This is still part of the definition adopted by some UK universities and by institutions in other parts of the world, making researchers responsible for policing the activities of their colleagues. The implications of such intervention will depend on the legal (Transparency International 2013) and institutional protections given to whistleblowers. The value of reporting misconduct will depend on the actions of those to whom wrongdoing is reported (see also Whistleblowers).


‘Manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record’ (Office of Research Integrity 2000. See also All European Academies 2017). Images may constitute data and so falsification can include inappropriate image manipulation and duplication. Falsified data do exist but have deliberately been altered. (see also Fabrication).


Fraud is ‘a deliberate act of deception intended for personal gain or to cause a loss to another party’ (European Anti-Fraud Office 2018). Researchers may commit fraud – sometimes in the form of fabrication or falsification – in order to gain grants or jobs. A significant proportion of retractions of journal articles are the result of fraud, or suspected fraud, by the author or corporate interests. In biomedicine and other disciplines, fraud can distort the evidence base and lead to harm to patients. In engineering, construction and materials, fraud may lead to serious technological failures that harm both individuals and communities.

Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)

Binding and non-binding international developments in law relating to Indigenous rights led to the International Labour Organization’s (1989) Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries and the United Nations (2007) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These require that, in situations such as the extraction of natural resources from, or construction on, Indigenous lands, the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous peoples must be sought. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (United Nations 2002) explained FPIC as consent: involving no coercion, intimidation or manipulation; being sought sufficiently in advance of any authorization or commencement of activities and respecting time requirements of indigenous consultation/consensus processes; grounded in information being provided that covers the nature, size, pace, reversibility, scope, purpose, duration, location, impact, personnel involved and procedures of any proposed project or activity; and based on consultation and participation. Some countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru), have legislated or regulated to require that the right of Indigenous peoples to offer FPIC be respected in a range of matters. In relation to research, this is reflected in national guidance for health-related research in Philippines and Taiwan.


The policies, rules, processes and behaviour that determine how powers are exercised. The European Commission (2001) has expressed these as a set of five principles which should inform the work of all European institutions, including those responsible for funding and directing research. These principles are: openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness and coherence. Civil society organizations, which would include most academies, universities and research institutes, are expected to adopt the same principles. A more recent report for the European Commission (2015) emphasized that good sectoral governance in research and innovation required ‘openness and participation through a network approach rather than a linear, top-down chain of command’. This may be in tension with other contemporary pressures. These include the common legal expectation that a controlling mind can be identified and held personally accountable for the actions of an organization. Many civil society organizations are also subject to countervailing expectations that they will operate on supposed market models which emphasize charismatic or transformational leadership by individuals rather than devolved or transactional forms, where leadership is distributed throughout.


Joel Feinberg (1984) defined harm as the ‘defeating of an interest’, where the interests of an individual are defined as ‘the range of things in which that individual has a stake’. Although the influence of bioethics means harm is most often understood in physical and individual terms, it also includes psychological, social, economic, reputational, legal and environmental damage. Those suffering harm may extend beyond the individuals directly participating in the research to include groups, communities, and the society at large. In social science research, harm is generally more likely to involve psychological distress, discomfort, social disadvantage, stigma, invasion of privacy or infringement of rights than physical injury.


The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (All European Academies 2017) identifies honesty ‘in developing, undertaking, reviewing, reporting and communicating research in a transparent, fair, full and unbiased way’ as one of the fundamental principles that underpins research integrity. The original version of the Code (All European Academies 2017) pointed to the need for honesty in ‘presenting research goals and intentions’, and in making ‘justifiable claims with respect to possible applications of research results’. Research integrity codes also place responsibility on institutions to ensure that all participants in misconduct investigations act honestly. Honesty may also relate to the use of any financial or other organizational resources granted, contracted or allocated to a research project for the benefit of that project rather than for any direct personal gain.

Inclusion criteria

‘A set of predefined characteristics used to identify subjects who will be included in a research study’ (Velasco 2010). Inclusion and exclusion criteria are used to create the selection and eligibility criteria used to determine who can participate in a research project. Inclusion and exclusion criteria should be based on both methodological and ethical grounds. Poor choices of inclusion and exclusion criteria may unfairly distribute the harms and benefits of research, leading to exploitation of vulnerable populations or making it impossible for the benefits of research to be applied to particular populations. Similar issues may arise in literature or systematic reviews where the choices of exclusion and inclusion criteria can inappropriately shape the results. Unexamined assumptions about a ‘hierarchy of methods’ are often responsible for this, rather than considering the fit between problems and the methods by which they might be investigated. (see also Exclusion Criteria)

Independence of Research

The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (All European Academies 2017) states that research should ideally develop ‘independently of pressure from commissioning parties and from ideological, economic or political interests’. For research to be independent, decisions about research questions, methodologies, analyses, results, conclusions and dissemination must not be influenced by the views of funders (public or private) or host institutions. The ability to assert independence may depend on the existence of a diversity of funding sources, collaborators, institutional hosts, sources of data, methodological and theoretical approaches. Inevitably, the degree of independence of research falls along a continuum. This reflects the terms on which the research is conducted rather than the source of funding. It should not be assumed that public or NGO funding is necessarily independent and corporate or defence-related funding is necessarily compromised. Each case must be considered on its own merits. (see also Conflict of Interest).


Some literature points to structural causes for research misconduct. In this explanation, fabrication, falsification and plagiarism become shortcuts to meeting unrealistic workloads or expectations. Other commentators point to moral failings, including indolence or laziness that might grow from frustration or boredom (Macfarlane, 2009). It may be hard to distinguish moral failings from lack of engagement due to poor design or management that leaves researchers indifferent to the process and outcome of the project (Roth 1966).

Informed consent

Informed consent implies that participants need to have substantial understanding of, and agree voluntarily to, the nature of the research and their role within it. Participants need to have the capacity to consent. Consent is generally recorded, though written agreement may not be necessary or appropriate. In some circumstances, it is justified to deceive participants, or to carry out research without consent (where there is negligible risk and observation occurs in a public space where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy; where there is public interest in allowing the research and there is no other way of conducting it; where a subject is unable to consent) (Hughes et al. 2010). Researchers should, however, avoid assuming a lack of capacity as an excuse for relying on assent – not objecting – or proxy consent from parents, carers, etc. Children and other people with cognitive limitations should, so far as practicable, be asked to give informed consent through materials and processes adapted to their level of understanding. (see also Covert Research).


Different conceptions of justice exist and there is disagreement about how they might be applied to research. Justice is one of the four principles introduced in the Belmont Report (Department of Health, Education, and Welfare 1979). Research ethics guidelines tend to refer to distributive and procedural ideas of justice, pointing to the need for benefits and burdens of research to be distributed fairly and for participants to receive fair treatment in their recruitment and in their representation by the outcomes of the research process. However, these arrangements might be regarded as exploitative in that the benefits to the participating individuals and communities would not be commensurate to either the risks placed on those communities or the benefits that might accrue to the researchers or the sponsors of the work. There are also more radical understandings of justice that, for example, question the gendered or racialized nature of traditional approaches and advocate, among other things, more social, global or Indigenous approaches. ‘Standpoint’ research often adopts an explicit commitment to challenging such structural disadvantages through the process and outcomes of its projects. (see also Principlism)

Kindness Ethics

According to Confucius (500 BCE), this is one of the five elements of perfect virtue. As such it is a quality developed within a person rather than a principle to guide actions. It describes the cultivation of a disposition of decency and good sense, caring for the well-being of all life (rather than being anthropocentric), including one’s own.


Refers to causing harms or seeking to cause harms. It may imply ‘evil’ intent but can also be used where the harm is not intentional. In ethics, ‘non-maleficence’ is commonly paired with Beneficence as a core guiding principle. (see also Harm; Principlism)


Typically used to refer to intentional wrong-doing, especially in a corporate context.


Where falsities are asserted as facts, where other people’s views, utterances or actions are reported inaccurately or falsely, or where research findings are not truthfully published or otherwise reported. Can also refer to spreading false information or ‘fake news’ about persons, groups, organisations.


If research data or findings are used for purposes that were not declared as part of the initial research design and are associated with actual or potential harm, this may constitute misuse. A topical example would be the use to influence voting behaviour of data gathered via social media purportedly solely to feed back a ‘personality profile’ to completers (The Guardian 2019). (see also Dual Use)


Using a privileged position to unfairly favour individual research colleagues, collaborators or relatives over other persons in giving access to resources or other benefits, such as employment opportunities


This is linked to the idea of Beneficence in Principlism. It is a way of recognizing that it may be very difficult to demonstrate that research will actually yield a direct benefit to specific participants. The benefit may come to a different group or at a future and unknowable time, if at all. However, it may be impossible to establish that without actually doing the research in the first place. Non-maleficence, then, asserts that researchers can, at the very least, be expected to minimize risks of harm or discomfort to participants (See also Harm; Maleficence).


Explicit or implicit requirements for the conduct of persons and organizations involved in research towards participants, funders etc., that are established by ethics principles, codes or guidelines, professional regulators, by specific conditions drawn up as part of the approval of a research design or by general law.

Operating procedures

Detailed specifications of processes to be followed by bodies such as research ethics committees in dealing with matters such as the reviewing of applications, the hearing of appeals against decisions or responding to complaints. (see also Governance)


Presenting other people’s work or ideas as one’s own, for example by including text from another author in one’s own writing without attribution, is plagiarism. Self-plagiarism, the unacknowledged re-use by an author of text written for one publication in a subsequent other publication may also be ethically unsound, dependent on context. (See also Duplicate and Redundant Publication; Self-plagiarism).


Statements of principle seek to promote consistency across broad ranges of actions or the evaluation of actions, in alignment with specific values.


An approach to ethics in biomedicine associated particularly with the US philosophers Tom Beauchamp and James Childress (2013). It argues that ethical judgements can be made by reference to four principles: Autonomy; Beneficence; Non-maleficence; and Justice. While these principles can be applied more widely (e.g Murphy and Dingwall 2001), there has been concern that they function too much like a checklist and, in particular, that their US origins mean that Autonomy tends to trump Justice. (see also Autonomy; Beneficence; Maleficence; Non-maleficence; Justice).


The concept of privacy may be expressed in two main ways: It can be thought of in a relatively passive fashion as respect for a feeling on the part of individuals that they would not wish certain information about themselves (including imagery) to be shared widely or made public. This is widely respected in research ethics as a basis for establishing protocols about confidentiality or exercising self-restraint in data gathering. More recently, however, it has come be thought of more in terms of ‘a right, which safeguards a cluster of related interests. Generally, privacy is the protection of: (i) control over information about oneself, (ii) control over access to oneself, both physical and mental, and (iii) control over one’s ability to make important decisions about family and lifestyle in order to be self-expressive and to develop varied relationships’ (Hughes et al 2010). This is reflected in European legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (European Parliament and Council 2016). Article 25, in particular, requires organizations to achieve Privacy by Design and by Default, as an inherent property of innovations and data manaagement rather than as a matter for individuals to request or grant. The implications of this, more stringent, concept of privacy for research, particularly in the social sciences, have yet to be fully established, although Article 6 provides a number of exemptions that would cover many, if not most, research projects (UKRI 2018).


The adjustment of research ethics processes to the level of risk anticipated in any particular project. This may include less intensive ethics review or information and consent requirements for projects identified as ‘low-risk’ or more intensive review of ‘high-risk’ projects. It is also relevant to discussions about Privacy and Covert Research, where ethics review processes may be called upon to balance the costs of moving away from conventional assumptions about respect for individuals against the wider collective benefits of better informing public debate and policy on contested or stigmatized matters.

Publication ethics

The principles, practices and policies that ensure published work can be trusted as a reliable source. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE 2017) has developed a taxonomy of publication ethics issues. These issues may occur at any stage of the publication lifecycle from author through editor to publisher. They might also arise from the work of reviewers, translators and funders. Some relate to a particular role in the process, such as ghost and guest Authorship, Fabrication, Falsification and Plagiarism or Predatory Publishing. Others, such as Conflicts of Interest, may occur at several stages. Issues identified in publication ethics may lead to correction of the published record as well as investigation of the circumstances under which the issue arose. Changes in the publishing industry (Open Access, pre-print publishing and post-publication review) will necessitate ethical responses.


Property or attribute. Typically used in research ethics to refer to ‘quality’ of research design and implementation as measured against criteria such as scientific soundness, meaningfulness of research questions, significance of findings or level of ethical sensitivity.

Questionable Research Practices

Many research integrity codes and statements developed outside the United States have extended their definition of research misconduct well beyond Fabrication, Falsification and Plagiarism to include other matters such as: undisclosed Duplicate Publication; Misrepresentation of data, interests, qualifications and involvement in Authorship; mismanagement of data; breaches of duties of care including improper conduct in peer review; unethically interfering with other people’s research; poor institutional policies, procedures and practices to foster research integrity; and improper responses to allegations of misconduct, including retaliation against Whistleblowers. This extended range of issues is sometimes termed ‘questionable research practices’ or, more accurately, ‘detrimental’ research practices. Increasingly, the Sanctions associated with Research Misconduct are being sought for matters such as harassment, bullying and discrimination within research teams (See also Bullying; Sexual harassment).


Using the scientifically unsound concept of ‘race’ to generalise about and stigmatise specific groups, typically on spurious criteria such as country of origin, skin colour, presumed religious affiliation or ethnic practices. Also acting towards colleagues, peers or students on the basis of such assumptions.


Establishment of a congenial, trusting relationship with another individual which facilitates mutual understanding. An important basis for effective participant interviewing in research.


The act of applying critical evaluative thinking to one’s behaviour. In research, seeking to become aware of potential personal biases or shortcomings in all stages and aspects of research.


In research, reflexivity refers to a researcher applying to themselves the same critical frame, methods or analyses that they apply to their research topic, participants and data. For example, a discourse analyst might reflexively analyse their own discursive treatment of their data. Commonly erroneously used interchangeably with Reflectivity


The demonstration that repeated use of the same research method produces the same, or consistent, findings. It may refer either to the use of the same method by different researchers or by the same researcher at different times. Quantitative methods employ various statistical methods to measure levels of reliability. Qualitative methods tend to deal with the issue by seeking to fit the findings of independent studies into coherent theoretical models.

Research competence

Ethical research requires that researchers should have the appropriate experience, qualifications and competence to design and carry out their work. Research ethics committees are often required to consider whether researchers have sufficient competence as part of their assessment of projects. This is, for example, an expectation of the UK Economic and Social Research Council Framework for Research Ethics, (ESRC 2015). Some research methodologies and disciplines have identified core competencies, qualifications or certification processes. In other cases, committees may need to assess claims made to competence or attempt to discern this from an application. It is important that ethics committees themselves have a sufficient range of competence to make such assessments, or are able to call upon additional assessors as required.

Research integrity

Definitions of integrity vary across countries, institutions and disciplines. The choice can reflect whether emphasis is placed on detection and punishment or on education and culture. The dominant position in many jurisdictions dwells on misconduct; where the definition has legal status (as in the United States) and is meant to hold researchers and institutions accountable, the acts and degree of intention associated with misconduct may be tightly demarcated. Where definitions are intended to promote broader values, the field may be conceived more broadly. ALLEA’s European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (All European Academies 2017) refers to reliability, Honesty, Respect and Accountability. The authors of the influential Singapore Statement on Research Integrity (WCRI 2010) proposed fundamental principles relating to Honesty, Accountability, professional courtesy and fairness, and good stewardship of research, as well as 14 professional responsibilities intended to transcend legitimate national and disciplinary differences.

Research misconduct

The United States Federal Research Misconduct Policy (Office of Research Integrity 2000) defined research misconduct narrowly in terms of Fabrication, Falsification and Plagiarism. This threefold definition of misconduct has become part of research integrity codes across the world. However, codes and statements developed outside the United States have extended their definition of research misconduct to Questionable Research Practices.


In this context, respect means having proper regard for the feelings, wishes or rights of another person, group or institution. It is the acknowledgement of Dignity and incorporated in the notion of Due Process. Respect does not commit a researcher or research user to shaping their work precisely in accord with the feelings, wishes or rights of another party: several parties may be involved with different feelings, wishes or rights. It does, however, oblige researchers or research users to take equally serious account of each party and to have clear reasons for departing from their expressions of feelings, wishes or rights.


Responsibility is the condition or fact of being answerable or accountable for something within one’s power, control, or management. In this context, it is often taken to mean that researchers should anticipate and assesses the potential implications of their work for both science and society as a whole. While they may not be able wholly to control what is done with their work, they should be able to demonstrate that they have considered its potential consequences. Responsibility is also linked to Accountability and the idea that researchers should to act in a way that shows their understanding of the importance of respecting a wider social interest.


Risk is the likelihood that research will result in damage, injury, liability, loss, or any other negative occurrence to some group or individual. The risk may fall on the wider society, on some specific section of the society, on an individual taking part in the research, or on the researcher.


Safety is the effort to mitigate or manage Risk, wherever it may arise. It involves measures to protect the health, well-being and rights of researchers, research participants, particular communities and the wider society. The interests of these groups may be in conflict. There will often be a trade-off between risk and safety: being averse to risk may mean that important knowledge is not acquired while being averse to safety may result in harm to one or more parties to the research. Some aspects of safety may be the subject of legal or regulatory obligations on those who employ researchers, regardless of the choices or preferences of individual researchers.


The word ‘sanction’ has two meanings in English. It may denote approval or permission to undertake an action. In this context, however, it is used in the legal sense of a penalty intended to create incentives to comply with a law, rule, regulation or instruction. To be effective, sanctions should normally be clearly defined in advance, relevant and proportionate to the offence committed and only administered as a result of Due Process.


Security is freedom from, or protection against, potential harm (or other unwanted coercive change) from external forces. Its beneficiaries may be individuals and social groups, institutions, or whole societies. Security mostly refers to protection from hostile forces, but it has a wide range of other senses: for example, as the absence of harm (e.g. freedom from want); as the presence of an essential good (e.g. food security); as resilience against potential damage or harm (e.g. secure foundations); as secrecy (e.g. a secure telephone line); as containment (e.g. a secure room or cell); and as a state of mind (e.g. emotional security). The term may also be used to refer to acts and systems intended to provide security, as in the case of ‘data security’. Research may jeopardize security in the first sense but may also be expected to deliver security in the second.

Security may also arise as an issue in the different sense of ‘national security’, where traditional ethical standards, such as confidentiality, are challenged in relation to terrorism or warfare. Researchers may find themselves facing legal pressures to disclose original data or identify research participants to police or security services (Elliott and Fleetwood 2017).


Self-plagiarism occurs when authors ‘reuse their own previously disseminated content and pass it off as a “new” product without letting the reader know that this material has appeared previously’ (Roig, 2013). Self-plagiarism may involve republishing a paper without acknowledgement, dividing one study into several redundant publications, or recycling previously written text without appropriate citation. Self-plagiarism can pose problems for meta-analyses as one study may exercise disproportionate influence if it is counted multiply (particularly if authors disguise the self-plagiarism); it may also infringe publishers’ copyright. In some disciplines, material (for example code in information technology, images in visual design) may be reused or repurposed without being understood as breach of integrity. A degree of self-plagiarism may also be justified where publications from interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary projects are being disseminated to different audiences (see also Duplicate and redundant publication: Plagiarism).


Actions based on the belief or unexamined assumption that people recognized as members of one sex or gender are less intelligent, able, skilful, etc. than people recognized as members of the other sex or gender. It most commonly refers to actions that assume women’s capacities and abilities are inferior to those of men. It may also be extended to cover the assumptions made about those individuals who identify themselves as ‘non-binary’, declining to be recognized as members of any specific sex or gender.

Sexual harassment

‘where any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature occurs, with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’ (European Parliament and Council 2006, Article 2). High profile concerns about abuse of power by powerful men in various organisations have also been raised in research institutions. These are increasingly being treated as Questionable Research Practices that should be considered as breaches of Research Integrity and treated as Research Misconduct (Marín-Spiotta 2018).


Statements about the quality of performance that should be expected from some activity. These statements may prescribe the technical details of the activity and the process required for the outcome to be recognized as acceptable. Although standards need not have an explicit legal force, they often acquire a moral force, such that individuals and organizations are expected to comply with them in order to be treated as legitimate for relevant social and economic purposes.


The process of marking social disapproval of some individual, group or institution that is not considered to comply with the expectations of those around it. Commonly, this disapproval is not based on objective evidence of the deviant aspects of the target’s behaviour, actions or personal characteristics but may still have considerable impact on their social and economic opportunities. It is a relevant concern for researchers that their work should not unnecessarily compound the stigmatization of those individuals or groups who participate.


A lack of hidden agendas and conditions associated with some action, accompanied by the open availability of all the information required for Collaboration, Cooperation, and collective decision making. Agreements, dealings, practices, and transactions are open to all for verification. The implication of transparency is that every action should be scrupulous enough to bear public scrutiny. This includes clarity about the rules and reasons behind regulatory measures. In practice, transparency may need to be balanced against Confidentiality and Stigmatization to protect research participants and their legitimate Privacy and commercial interests.


In ethical thinking, value goes beyond the economic calculations that are often used to produce a single metric in order to evaluate the likely costs and benefits of actions for individuals and organizations, whether as the one acting or being acted upon. The principle of human Dignity implies that all human beings and social institutions have an intrinsic value and potential to make contributions that are as much spiritual, moral or intellectual as they might be material. This implies that they cannot be treated simply as means to some research goal but are entitled to a degree of respect as a matter of right.

Vested interests

Applies both to individuals and to public and private groups and organisations. Individuals may seek to promote a theory or misrepresent a finding for personal advancement. Can also apply to organisations seeking to control scientific findings for private advantage. Corporate, NGO and government interests associated with matters such as deregulation of banking, private prisons, fracking, and fossil fuels have been accused of deliberate distortion of the scientific record at the expense of the public good by overtly or covertly funding pro-industry research, suppressing contrary findings, and falsely discrediting opponents. Similar allegations have been made against political groups who misuse research to favour a particular public policy agenda or ideology.


Immoral or wicked – but not necessarily unlawful – individual behaviour. It is generally thought to be the result of a weakness of character that applies regardless of context. Vices may be contained by Sanctions but can only be corrected by acts of personal will, which may encouraged by programmes of education, reform or rehabilitation.


Morally good or desirable individual behaviour thought to reflect positive strength of character that may be displayed in any context. It may be encouraged through education and reward, although it is not motivated by a desire for personal gain, in either a financial or a spiritual sense.


The foundational assumption that individuals are free to choose their own goals, and how to achieve them, albeit within certain societal and cultural constraints. These choices are a matter of will rather than being coerced or predetermined. This assumption supposes that, in the absence of contradictory evidence, all human beings have the potential cognitive capacity to make free choices. Provided that they have full information, these choices will accurately reflect their preferences and goals in life – at least as far as they can be realised within that context.


A limited capacity to protect one’s own interests or Security from harm, exploitation or other wrongdoing. It is not a fixed property of individuals or institutions but depends upon the context and resources, material or cognitive, that are available to support the person, group or organization. It may be thought of as an impaired ability to meet the assumptions of Voluntarism.


The exposure of information or actions within an organization, public or private, that may be considered illegal, unethical, or abusive. Where an organization lacks Transparency, whistleblowing may be an important means of revealing misconduct. As such, it often receives special legal protection against potential reprisals. Sometimes incentives may be offered to encourage whistleblowing. Researchers who uncover misconduct may face difficult choices in deciding whether to respect the assurances of confidentiality that are usually given to organizations that take part in research or to acknowledge a public interest in disclosure.

OTHER Glossaries:

  • There is a glossary resulting from the European Patients Academy (EUPATI) project (it is heavily medical and patient-oriented, but again has some useful health-related and generic features):

“A standard is a consensus based document with input from all parties concerned. This standard was developed within one year with input from several universities (chaired by University of Twente) and other stakeholders (e.g. EUREC).” (Thamar Zijlstra)

Other sources: 

  • Launched a few weeks ago only at the World Conference on Research Integrity, the Embassy is a wiki-like platform for everybody to contribute and to collect all the “soft knowledge“ in writing, and to offer “the possibility to have a discussion with colleagues across the globe, which could be a nice opportunity to find definitions or identify differences” (Fenneke Blom)
  • Publication suggestion:
    Iphofen (2009/2011): “Ethical Decision Making in Social Research”
    “The book is based on [a checklist] for researchers and reviewers – it’s a kind of decision-tree that guides reviewers to the kinds of elements they need to consider in conducting their review and helps researcher plan for such a review.” (Ron Iphofen)