Responsible Conduct of Research Wiki

Main Page

From Responsible Conduct of Research Wiki

Jump to: navigation, search



NSF delegates both the content and frequency of Responsible Conduct of Research (hereafter RCR) training to its supported institutions. This wiki provides a set of training materials for researchers based at Gemini. It is provided as a source of information and training on RCR; it does not define policy (refer to the AURA website for RCR policy statement). It is also not concerned with mentoring and ethical supervision; that is covered by the Gemini Mentoring programme.

This wiki lays out a set of definitions of the areas of concern, links to specific statements on as many of these as possible, and provides a guide to self-training material which each person with a research allocation and/or with support responsibilities should read through. That reading material, plus a discussion session and preparatory online quiz, form the required training which is fully defined here.

Policy References

Institutional Statements

Various institutions define their own ethics/responsibility codes. A selection is listed below.

AAS General Ethics Statement

  • A top-level description of the AAS ethics framework, including definitions of the various malpractices.

AAS Journals Ethics Policy.

  • Also ApJ Supplements 167,101 2006. The latter is linked to in Kalas' ethics course, which is where I found it originally. It gives a succinct description of the Journals' policies: General ethics, Plagiarism/Republication, Attribution, Conflicts of Interest, Confidentiality, Professional misconduct, and Investigation policy.

U.S. Federal Policy on Research Misconduct.

  • A copy of this is linked to from Kalas' course pages. Short and sweet, one page defining FFP and what does not qualify as misconduct, who is responsible for following up on instances, and what the consequences are for the person at fault.


The main issues can be summarised in an Acronym: FFP (Falsification, Fabrication, Plagiarism). Note that as per Federal Policy, research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.


  • Quoting US Federal policy: Falsification is 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.


  • Quoting US Federal policy: Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.


  • Dictionary definition: the wrongful appropriation, close imitation, or purloining and publication, of another author's language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions, and the representation of them as one's own original work.
  • Quoting US Federal policy definition: the appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.

Conflict of Interest

  • If you are involved in a number of interests/projects, and involvement in one could negatively affect your motivation for an action in another, you have a conflict of interest.

Incomplete or Missing Attribution

  • Failing to reference others' work, failing to include all appropriate authors on a publication.



RCR Training at Gemini consists of two elements: (i) formal reading assignments and (ii) an annual discussion session with all available science staff present including (especially) new employees.

  • Defined Reading material: "On Being a Scientist" (see "Online Resources")
  • Defined Reading material: Sections 1.12 and 10 of "The Mayfield Guide" (see "Online Resources")
  • Discussion sessions (held once annually, mandatory for new staff), discussing in more depth the examples covered in an Multiple choice online quiz (updated annually with fresh case studies).
  • Online tutorial course: at Ethics Core (estimated time to complete these tutorials: 3 hours). You will need to register for a user ID, which requires two steps:
    1. create a hub user account
      • go to the ethics core home page
      • from the RCR Modules pulldown on the top right, select "RCR User Account Registration"
      • create an account
      • when you've been through the loop of being emailed for confirmation:
    2. register your user account as part of Gemini Observatory Research Staff
      • connect to the ethics core home page again
      • from the RCR Modules pulldown on the top right, select "RCR User Account Registration"
      • login with your new credentials
      • select "Gemini Observatory Research Staff" from the "Which group" pulldown

Ultimately you want to be here: Ethics Core RCR Tutorials. Each tutorial consists of a set of written paragraphs, and most come with a set of quiz questions.

Here's an example from the first tutorial:

Don is a first-year graduate student applying to the National Science Foundation for a 
predoctoral fellowship. His work in a lab where he did a rotation project was later carried 
on successfully by others, and Don has produced a first draft of a paper he intends to 
submit for publication by the end of the summer. However, the fellowship application deadline 
is June 1, and Don decides it would be advantageous to list a publication as "submitted." 
Without consulting the lead faculty member or other colleagues involved, Don comes up with 
a reasonable title and complete author list for a "submitted" paper and cites it in his 

After the application has been mailed, a lab member sees it and goes to the faculty member 
to ask about the "submitted" manuscript. Don admits that the paper has not been submitted yet 
and explains his actions by saying that he thought the practice was not uncommon in science.

The faculty members in Don's department demand that he withdraw his grant application and dismiss 
him from the graduate program. After leaving the university, Don applies for a master's degree, 
since he has fulfilled the course requirements. Although the department votes not to grant him 
a degree, the university administration does so because it is not stated in the university graduate 
bulletin that a student in Don's department must be in "good standing" to receive a degree. They 
fear that Don will bring suit against the university if the degree is denied. Likewise, nothing will 
appear in Don's university transcript regarding his dismissal. 

Associated Question and multiple-choice answers were:

1. Is Don guilty of scientific misconduct? (multiple choice, possibly more than one right answer)
   No, he committed a small error in judgement but no harm was done by indicating the paper was "submitted".
   Yes, but he didn't know any better and therefore shouldn't be punished.
   Yes, he is guilty of fabrication.
   Yes, lying on an application to a federal program is one of the most serious offenses a scientist can commit.


While the formal elements are necessary to provide background information and to cover the issues in generic form in black and white situations, it is debatably more important that those engaging in research are aware of "grey areas", and thereby avoid straying into such problems. In the latter cases, therefore, the training is grounded in a group-wide discussion, held at least once annually, which reiterates the problem areas using real-life examples. To prime the group for this discussion, an online quiz is made available. While the examples therein are necessarily generic, they are based in real-life cases and will be updated after each discussion session as new material becomes available.


Having thus provided researchers with the ability to identify cases where their actions may be moving into a grey area, Gemini needs to provide them with an independent authority to consult to determine the best course of action. This is provided by the "RCR Panel". The Panel consists of 3 senior staff astronomers and is available for confidential consultation in the event of doubt.

Current Membership of the RCR Panel

Past Membership of the RCR Panel


Here we list some online sources of RCR information and background reading. Two of these constitute the required reading for Gemini researchers.


On Being A Scientist

  • A comprehensive but digestible (20-page) reference with a lot of examples of the sorts of pitfalls you may encounter.
  • This book is available in the Gemini North Library and in Tucson.
  • Video relating to the third edition is also available.
  • Origin as follows: "Since the 1980s, professional societies and federal agencies moved to describe research norms and to look for ways to educate young scientists. While not disputing the importance of informal mentoring in the teaching of students, the National Academy of Sciences explained that '[S]cience has become so complex and so closely intertwined with society's needs that a more formal introduction to research ethics and the responsibilities that these commitments imply is also needed - an introduction that can supplement the informal lessons provided by research supervisors and mentors.' The Academy, in 1989, produced the first edition of 'On Being A Scientist,' to describe, for beginning scientists, the ethical foundations of scientific practice. More than 200,000 copies were distributed to graduate and undergraduate students." (Quotation from top page of the Online Research Ethics course linked to above.)


Mayfield Guide to Science Writing - sections 1.12, 10 (see below)

  • Very comprehensive discussion of writing for science. Focuses more on the production of articles than the ethics but with some useful legal and ethical coverage also.
  • See in particular Section 1.12 on collaborative writing, Section 1.12 on Legal and Ethical issues, and Section 10 on Citing and Referencing.

Not required, but suggested:

Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age

Online research ethics course

UA ORCR office web site.



Various issues arise in the context of an Observatory which may not be present elsewhere. While not part of the RCR materials per se, these points are worth reflecting on and are covered in the discussion sessions.

  • Potential conflicts resulting from support astronomy
  • Target coordinates
  • Science cases
  • Contact with multiple PIs
Personal tools

Legal Disclaimer Some of the individuals posting to this site, including the moderators, work for Gemini Observatory. Opinions expressed here and in any corresponding comments may be personal opinions of the original authors, not of Gemini Observatory. The content is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be an endorsement or representation by Gemini Observatory or any other party. This site is available to the public. No information you consider confidential should be posted to this site. By posting you agree to be solely responsible for the content of all information you contribute, link to, or otherwise upload to the Website and release Gemini Observatory from any liability related to your use of the Website. You also grant to Gemini Observatory a perpetual and royalty-free right to exercise all copyright, publicity, and moral rights with respect to any original content you provide. The comments are moderated. Comments will appear as soon as they are approved by the moderator.