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Ethics and conduct

Good science relies on scientists generating and sharing their findings with openness and honesty, which ensures the use of science for social benefit and a culture that fosters research integrity. Poor practices or pressures created by intense competition for funding and promotion can undermine potential benefits and slow down progress.

Everyone involved in science is responsible for ensuring that high quality science is done with honesty and integrity, and to high ethical standards. We support this through open discussion of what good science is and supporting initiatives on research integrity.

Supporting research integrity

In 2014, the Society participated in a project by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics investigating research culture. It found that individual scientists, research institutions, funders and publishers each play a role in shaping scientific research culture. It is up to everyone to build a culture which supports high quality, ethical research.

Research funded by the Royal Society must comply with the Concordat to Support Research Integrity, a set of commitments developed by Research Councils and other funding bodies. It includes a commitment to maintain high standards of rigour and integrity as well as guidelines for dealing with research misconduct.

We explored how technological change can play a role in identifying and deterring misconduct in our report Science as an open enterprise. It found that making underlying scientific data open, with appropriate safeguards, could help to both identify fraudulent activity and build public trust in science.

Addressing ethical issues

Our policy work provides decision makers with access to expert, independent scientific advice. Many of the issues we address have important ethical dimensions. We support efforts to increase the public’s understanding of science to better inform these debates.

Animal research

Society has benefited immensely from scientific research involving animals. However, animal research must be undertaken with the greatest care. We endorse the principles of the ‘3Rs’ which are to, wherever possible, replace the use of animals, reduce the number of animals used and refine methods to minimise suffering.

Stem cell and embryo research

Stem cell derived therapies could help to save and improve the lives of many patients, including those suffering from serious injury or disease. We support a legislative and regulatory framework for embryo research that ensures stem cell techniques are justified both ethically and by scientific need.

Genetic modification

Genetic modification (GM) is one of the technologies that could be used to help address the challenge of increasing agriculture and food production. Different technologies will be needed in different places and no technology should be ruled out. 

Synthetic biology

Synthetic biology, the design and production of novel biological systems and organisms, carries enormous potential benefits for medicine and other fields. There is uncertainty about how this field should be governed, an issue we addressed in a series of events and reports.

Human enhancement

Increasing understanding of the brain and associated advances in technologies present the possibility of cognitive enhancement and manipulation of brain function. We explored these issues in our Brain Waves project and at a workshop on Human enhancement and the future of work.

Geoengineering

Geoengineering the climate, published by the Society, addresses deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system in order to moderate global warming. It includes an evaluation of the ethical considerations central to decision-making in this field.