More than ever before, research in the today’s university is a collaborative enterprise. High-energy physicists often publish papers with hundreds of authors. Many scientists work in laboratory groups, which may include faculty members, staff researchers, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduates. Collaborations between research groups are growing, and the collaborating groups can be across the hall, the country, or the globe. Scholars or groups in different fields work together on interdisciplinary projects.
One of the characteristics of science is that scientists share the results of their research so that science as a whole can advance. While many scientists recognize the sharing of results and material as an ideal, several recent trends in university research create obstacles for this:
While the National Institutes of Health grant policies require sharing “biomedical research resources,” scholars report a wide variety of distribution policies among their peers and, at times, difficulties obtaining desired information or materials.
When Collaborations End...
For a variety of reasons, all collaborations will end. Some ethical issues that might arise in these situations include:
Because best research practices can vary from field to field, interdisciplinary collaborations can present unique challenges. Practices concerning disclosure of financial interests in journal articles illustrate some of these differences. In medical fields, for instance, journals have been moving towards requiring authors to disclose financial interests relating to their research publications. For example, a physician who co-authored a paper on a class of drugs and consulted for a company that made one of the drugs would now be required to disclose his or her consulting in the paper. In engineering, however, a scholar who published a paper related to private consulting activities might be discouraged from disclosing a private consulting business because the disclosure could appear promotional. Thus, collaboration between doctors and engineers, in biomedical engineering, for example, might need to determine whether all members would make similar disclosures, whether disclosures would vary depending on the place of publication, etc. This is just one example of the need for extra awareness and sensitivity in determining and negotiating best practices in responsible conduct research conduct when the research is interdisciplinary.