The Status of Scientific Research Ethics in Lithuania: What does the Lithuanian Scientific Community Think? Preliminary Results of a National Survey

Aurelija Novelskaitė, Raminta Pučėtaitė

Abstract


Research ethics is a term which is usually used in discussions on biomedical research and, with less frequency, in social research as much as it relates to research on human beings. However, in the broadest sense, research ethics may be defined as covering all stages of scientific research (starting with conception and finishing with publication); thus, being aware of the importance of ethical considerations in research on human beings, we think that the term is applicable to all fields of science. (e.g., ethical dilemmas can arise during the process of selection of the research topic in natural or exact sciences as well as in social or medical sciences (e.g., simplifying the matter, to explore colleague’s idea or not).)
Research ethics became an object of empirical explorations in the 1960s in Western countries. Currently a large number of empirical studies can be found on research ethics questions in different fields of science, on work of research ethics review committees, on teaching research ethics, on consulting on research ethics, on research ethics in global contexts, etc. However, most (if not all) of these studies are conducted in Western European countries and in the United States; empirical research on ethics in such post-soviet/socialist countries as Lithuania are exclusively occasional. Also, Lithuanian research organizations do not participate in numerous research projects (e.g. FP7) on various research ethics related issues which currently are funded by the European Commission. Thus, this paper is one of the first endeavours to shed light on research ethics in Lithuania by providing a portion of empirical data.
The paper is based on analysis of empirical data, which was collected during the national web-based questionnaire survey among Lithuanian researchers and scientists in spring 2011 (N=1107 of started questionnaires, n=330 of fully filled questionnaires). As this is the first publication of the survey data, it is aimed at exploration of one general question: what is the attitude of Lithuanian researchers and scientists towards research ethics status in the country. Results of the analysis of quantitative evaluations and additional commentaries suggest that the status of research ethics is far from perfect: despite the average evaluation being 6 points out of 10 max possible, survey participants provided a number of references to examples of researchers’ unethical behaviour (e.g. plagiarism and imposed authorship, data fabrication and falsification, unfair expert reviewing, etc.) as well as to factors enforcing (e.g. lack of knowledge, existent research funding schemes and evaluation system) and supporting (e.g. the lack of organizational susceptibility and of community sensitivity) such behaviour. It is found, that evaluation of the status is higher among research participants from medical sciences (supposedly because of legal developments concerning research ethics in the field) and among PhD students (who obviously have less experience of scientific work). These findings suggest that the general attitude towards research status in the country actually is based on experiences in the closest—research organization—environments.
Considering that there is obvious awareness of research ethics related problems and their sources among Lithuanian researchers and scientists (at least those who participated in the survey), but lack of susceptibility and sensitivity to the issues as well as, practically, absence of resistance to unethical practices and standards, the paper ends with a question for further research, i.e. how to turn moral convictions and attitudes to moral actions.

Keywords


scientific research ethics; Lithuanian scientific community; post-soviet society

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"Societal studies" ISSN online 2029-2244 / ISSN print 2029-2236