Stewarding the human good: understanding the nature of research and its ethical horizons.

Author:Gabriele, Edward


"Science, by itself, provides no panacea for individual, social, or economic ills ..... But without scientific progress no amount of achievement in other directions can insure our health, prosperity, and security as a nation in the modern world."

--Vannevar Bush, Science, 7he Endless Frontier.

Research administration and leadership, above all, directly serve the needs of researchers, scientists, research programs, institutions and their leaders, and the public trust itself. Research administration is therefore an expansive and all encompassing profession. It integrates all of the diverse arts and sciences that are foundational to leadership and service in the management and strategic development of research. Such areas include policy formulation, leadership science, organizational psychology, financial management and oversight, regulatory compliance, and critically needed tactical areas. However, the foundations of research administration also include other areas that are sometimes assumed. Research administrators need to develop an appreciation for and understanding of the actual academic or scholarly areas of the research being conducted. There is a need to understand the art of publication practices and scholarly writing. Communication arts are critical. For international research efforts, it is essential to understand the underpinnings of multiculturalism and the processes of paradigm shifting that occur in global partnerships. For the future advancement of the research portfolio of the individual program or institution, there is a need to gain some level of the arts and sciences of programmatic development. Of particular importance to our concerns here, there is a need to understand the overwhelming power of ethics as it touches upon nearly every aspect of the act of research and its administration.

Unfortunately, there has developed an understandable but incorrect assumption that ethics is the same as compliance. In some cases, very erroneously, there are some underdeveloped notions that ethics is the same as a type of legalism that is disrespectful of the profound nature of law that is itself an art and a science. Ethics is assuredly not about legalisms. It is not simply about "checking off the box" to fulfill requirements. It is also not just about complying with those requirements. Indeed, it includes compliance, but its definition is not subsumed by compliance. Ethics is far broader. Ethics is the essential context for compliance. Assuredly, they are related. Also related are law and ethics. Yet ethics has a broad and demanding foundation. It is, at its roots, about the formation of character in both individuals and institutions. Ethics is about the ongoing development of a system of values and high principles that inform and guide one's activities both for individual persons and for the institution as a corporate sole. Ethics is as much about "who" one is, as it is about "what" one does. In this sense, ethics in research is critical especially when one considers appreciably the power of research to touch the lives of individuals and the world in which we live.

As such a phenomenon, ethics in research is a powerful and critically important area of concern for research administrators, executives, managers, and professionals. Research administrators help to steward the development of values and the formation of character in the communities we serve. Often, this occurs silently, but always definitely. Such an understanding helps us to appreciate ever more deeply the nature of "research integrity," as that term so often appears in research policy. To ensure the integrity of research and of those who conduct research, there is a need for research administrators to develop, support and oversee policies and practices that are always compliant; but, even more deeply, are always aimed at promoting the highest values of personal and institutional research conduct, aspiration, and identity. Yet to understand the dynamic interrelationship between research and ethics, it is critical that research administrators understand the nature of research itself. Sometimes, the definition of research or its variant understandings and complex factors can be lost. Education in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) can assist greatly in this regard. To achieve successfully the goals of ethics and of regulatory compliance in research, the ongoing RCR education of researchers and research administrators requires an appreciation of the nature of research and its fundamental definition, regardless of the actual disciplines involved or the levels of programmatic research to be explored.

Defining Research

RCR education involves an ever-expanding body of knowledge concerning an even greater expanse of emerging topics and specialties. Both the body of knowledge and the expansive topics will ever increase exponentially over time as new concepts about research and new challenges to research integrity emerge. These factors are not limited to any one particular branch or discipline of research in any of the sciences, the humanities, or technologies. However, to achieve a mature posture in the face of these expansive realities, researchers, research leaders, and other colleagues must become securely grounded in key fundamentals.

One of these fundamentals is the concept or definition of research itself. How is research defined? What contemporary factors have emerged that affect an individual or institutional understanding of research? What are the constitutive parts of the concept of research? How do all of these questions inform and challenge the personal and professional formation of researchers and research leaders? How can these questions deepen one's commitment to the integrity of research?

One interesting metaphor for research is "Genius Becoming Innovation." In other words, research occurs when the human gifts of intellect, curiosity, and skill coalesce in a type of synergy that fires one's desire to investigate questions, advance explorations, and invent new processes or products for the good of individuals and society in general. his metaphorical understanding certainly has power; however, one must go deeper. It is essential that researchers and research leaders appreciate the critical defining factors about research so that ever-changing societal variables in institutions and cultures do not erode the fundamental purpose of research itself.

In today's environment, it is readily demonstrated and accepted that research has become a powerful enterprise with strong financial visibility in the world market place. From the development of pharmaceutical firms to the powerful place of the ongoing development of social media and information technologies, research is a powerful business presence. This is historically consistent...

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