Research ethics, animal treatment and dual-use

Articles will be accepted based on scientific merit and only if they are considered ethically sound in the judgement of the editors.

Referees are asked to express any ethical concerns regarding human studies, potential risk of misuse or maltreatment of animals and conservation or environmental issues.

Human subjects

For experiments involving human subjects, the committee approving the experiments should be identified with any and all related project/licence numbers given and the research conducted according to the principles expressed in the Declaration of Helsinki. The authors should confirm that informed consent was obtained from all subjects or their representatives or explain why this was not done.

Normally, we will need permission to share datasets and associated metadata with reviewers in a confidential manner. However, if this is not possible please consult the editorial office - in some circumstances metadata may be sufficient for reviewers to assess a paper.

We recognise three different scenarios for human data:

1) The simplest case is that the dataset was already published by another research group, and it is available for download. In this case all that is needed is a clear statement of how the data can be accessed. 

2) The dataset has been used for several publications but it is held by a third party (e.g., NIH), which only provides access following a very strict protocol. It is necessary to apply to the dataset owner for gaining access to it. If this is not permitted contact the editorial office. 

3) The dataset is completely new but contains sensitive information and, therefore, its access is restricted as required by EU or national laws. This is the most challenging case. The data owners have to be clearly identified by the authors and in principle we would expect that it is a national or international agency/institution/consortium to which the authors are associated. An official responsible for the access to the data needs to provide a statement explaining why the data cannot be shared with reviewers.

For papers that are published, if data are restricted e.g., for ethical and/or legal reasons, they should be made available to readers upon request to a Data Access Committee or Ethics Committee. You should state the reason for restriction e.g., identifiable patient data, the name of the Data Access Committee or Ethics Committee and details for the point of contact.

Researchers undertaking cross-cultural behavioural studies should follow best-practice guidelines such as those outlined here and include clear details within the paper where relevant. Human articles must clearly specify the sample and context in which the study was done in the title or abstract (for example, geographical location, ethnicity of population, etc.).

Animal subjects

The Royal Society believes that all research should be carried out with a high regard for animal welfare. Authors should include details of any animals used in their study, including information about welfare standards used (such as, but not limited to: species, number, sex, age, weight, housing conditions, welfare, animal training and the fate of the animals at the end of the experiment) and relevant details of steps taken to ameliorate suffering. These details should be included in the Methods section of the article. 

Authors are expected to comply with the 'Animal Research: Reporting In Vivo Experiments' (ARRIVE) guidelines. These have been developed by NC3Rs to improve standards of reporting to ensure that the data from animal experiments can be fully scrutinised and utilised. Relevant information should be included in the appropriate section of the article, as outlined in the ARRIVE guidelines.

All research involving animals must have been reviewed and approved by an ethics committee prior to commencing the study and performed in accordance with relevant institutional and national guidelines and regulations. A statement identifying the institutional and/or licensing committee approving the experiments (including the number(s) of the licence/approval(s) received) must be included in the ethics statement in the submission system and in the article. If the study is exempt from ethics approval, authors need to state the reasons for exemption. Procedures used must be clearly described.

Any interaction with the animals that might cause them to change their typical behaviour must get full ethical approval, both from the institution where the work was done and from the researcher's home institution. Permission is also required for any studies where food or apparatus are provided.

Any possible adverse consequences of the work for ecosystems, populations or individual organisms must be weighed against the possible gains in knowledge and its practical applications.

Research relating to animal behaviour and fieldwork studies should follow the advice provided by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour / Animal Behavior Society Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Research (Animal Behaviour, 2023, 195, I-XI). 

The journals of the Royal Society reserve the right to ask authors for all ethical documentation related to their study and to contact the authors institution for more information. 

Dual use and biosecurity

We consider potential dual use concerns on a case by case basis.

WHO defines this as:

Research that is intended to provide a clear benefit, but which could easily be misapplied to do harm. It usually refers to work in the life sciences, but the principles are also applicable to other fields including engineering and information technology. It encompasses everything from information to specific products that have the potential to create negative consequences for health and safety, agriculture, the environment or national security.

Please highlight the potential risk of misuse in your cover letter. This will be assessed alongside the technical review.

Authors who use DNA from commercial DNA providers should get their DNA from a company that screens against misuse. They should choose a provider which is a member of the IGSC, and they should disclose the name of the company they purchased DNA from to the editors. 

Other ethical issues

We endorse guidance of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology by not publishing work resulting from unethically sourced Burmese amber and where fossil samples (i.e. the “data”) are not publicly available. We expect authors, on submission of a manuscript, to provide the following information: 1) evidence that the data are permanently curated in an accessible collection with specimen number(s); 2) Verification of the date of collection and export (this must be pre-2017) of the specimens, including a permit number or other verification that the fossils were legally exported from Myanmar; 3) clarification whether any of the listed authors are researchers or personnel based in Myanmar, with adequate justification if not. Item #1 should be in the manuscript and ethics statement. Items #2-3 should be part of the cover letter. We cannot proceed with considering studies for possible peer review until these questions are answered.