This Code of Good Practice closely follows the Statement on Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice issued by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in 1998.
As a publicly funded organization, the Armagh Observatory has a responsibility to ensure that the funds it disperses are spent properly in accordance with the law and in the public interest. Included within this responsibility is a need to guarantee that members of staff carry out their research, and are seen to do so, according to best scientific practice.
The Observatory expects the highest standards of scientific integrity to be adhered to by the researchers, students and other staff that it funds, whether they are employees or associates of other institutions. This Code of Practice addresses the issues involved in the proper conduct of scientific research, and provides guidance on the standards expected.
The Observatory cannot be prescriptive about individual approaches taken by scientists to solving particular research problems. However, it expects the following general principles to be understood and observed.
The Observatory expects researchers and other staff to observe the standards of practice set out in guidelines published by scientific societies, funding agencies and other relevant professional bodies, where available. In addition, the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life identified seven principles which have relevance to best practice in the conduct of research, namely: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The following principles of Good Practice are of particular relevance to research.
At the heart of all scientific endeavour, regardless of discipline or institution, is the need for scientists to be honest with respect to their own actions in scientific research and in their responses to the actions of other scientists. This applies to the whole range of scientific activity, including experimental design, generating and analysing data, publishing results, and acknowledging the direct and indirect contributions of colleagues, collaborators and others. All members of the Armagh Observatory should consciously refrain from plagiarism, piracy or the fabrication of results. Such actions are considered a serious violation of this Code.
While recognizing the need for scientists to protect their own interests in the process of planning their research and obtaining their results, the Observatory encourages all staff to be as open as possible in discussing their research with other scientists and with the public. Once results have been published, where appropriate, the Observatory expects researchers to make every reasonable effort to supply available relevant data and material to others on request.
The culture and tone of procedures within any organization must be set by individuals in authority. Within the Observatory, it is the responsibility of the Director and senior staff as well as the Management Committee and Board of Governors to ensure that a climate is created that allows research to be conducted in accordance with good research practice.
Within a research group, responsibility lies with the group leader. These individuals should create a research environment of mutual co-operation, in which all members of a research team are encouraged to develop their skills and in which the open exchange of research ideas is fostered. They should also ensure that appropriate direction of research and supervision of researchers and research students are provided.
Scientific misconduct is least likely to arise in an environment where good research practice (e.g. documentation of results, peer review of research, regular discussion and seminars) is encouraged, and where adequate resources and adequate supervision are provided at all relevant levels.
Throughout their work, researchers are required to keep clear and accurate records of the scientific procedures followed and of the results obtained, including interim results where practicable. This is necessary as a means of demonstrating proper scientific practice, particularly if questions are subsequently asked about either the conduct of the research or the results obtained. The Observatory expects such research records to be securely held for a reasonable period of three years or more after the completion of a research project.
It is usually a condition of receipt of research funds that the results are published in an appropriate form, usually as papers in refereed journals. This has long been widely accepted as the best system for research results to be reviewed and made available to the research community for verification or replication.
The issue of authorship is important in the context of good research practice. In line with general guidance given by the journal Nature and similar publications, the Observatory expects anyone listed as an author on a paper to accept personal responsibility for ensuring that they are familiar with the contents of the paper, and that they can identify their contributions to it. The practice of honorary authorship, in which a co-author has not participated in any substantial way in the conception, execution, or interpretation of at least part of the work described in the publication, is unacceptable. Conversely, co-authors carry their share of the responsibility for the research and its outcome.
The contributions of formal collaborators and others who directly assisted or indirectly supported the research must be properly acknowledged. This applies to any circumstances in which statements about the research are made, including provision of information about the nature and process of the research, and in publishing the outcome. Failure to acknowledge the contributions of others could be regarded as unprofessional conduct.
Responsibility for ensuring that students and others new to the research community understand good scientific practice lies with all members of the community, but particularly with group leaders and senior research staff.
Principal Investigators should take all reasonable measures to ensure compliance with sponsor, institutional, legal and ethical obligations in managing projects.
It is the responsibility of all members of the Observatory to identify and declare any conflicts of interest in their academic activities, whether legal, ethical, moral, financial, institutional, personal or any other nature, so that it does not become a complicating or actionable issue.
The Observatory takes seriously any allegation of misconduct in scholarly activity or scientific research and anyone who believes that an act of scientific misconduct has occurred, or is occurring, should notify the Administrator. If, for any reason, this is not possible or appropriate, the individual should contact the Director.