34 Different types of research

Both researchers and research institutions must ensure that the funding and organisation of research is not in conflict with the norms of open, reliable and independent research.

An overarching responsibility of research policy is to maintain the balance between different types of research, both between different disciplines and between commissioned research and researcher-driven research (pure and applied research). Different types of funding and organisation give rise to different research ethics issues and dilemmas in the relationship between science and society. Many of the challenges that used to be restricted to commissioned research, relating to norms such as openness, accountability and independence, may be equally relevant today for other types of research as well.

Research communities interact with society in general. When society funds research, it is because it expects something in return. Society's expectations concerning utility and relevance are not irreconcilable with the requirement that research must be free and
independent, but this places demands on transparency with respect to terms of contract, ownership, confidentiality and the right to publish.

Knowledge is a collective good, and if research becomes too privatised, it will inhibit both the development of knowledge and the contribution of research to society. At the same time, commissioned research, where external principals decide on the subject, are an important part of society's aggregate knowledge development. For that reason, there must be a balance between commissioned research and researcher-driven research. Research funders should be aware of established standards for the organisation of research and reporting assignments.[36]

35 Commissioned research

Both public and private commissioners have a legitimate right to set the parameters for research assignments, as long as those parameters does not conflict with the other requirements made with regard to the research. However, that does not exempt researchers and research institutions from their share of the responsibility for the agreements they sign with commissioners.

Researchers and research institutions do not merely report their own results; they also represent the credibility of the research community as a reliable source of knowledge. The commissioner has a right to steer or influence the subject and issues addressed, but not the choice of method, results or conclusions drawn by the researcher on the basis of the results. Both researchers and research institutions have a right and a duty to point out the uncertainties and limitations of the research, for example when the results are to be used in policy decisions.

36 The responsibility of researchers in large projects

Researchers who take part in large research projects have a shared responsibility for those projects. It should be clear how an individual researcher has contributed to a research project.

When research is organised into large, hierarchically managed projects, the relationship between individual researchers and the project management is analogous to the relationship between the researcher/research institution and the commissioner. If researchers experiences a conflict between loyalty to the institution or project and an ethically acceptable approach, the basic principle is that the individual researcher has a responsibility for their own participation. Researchers are also responsible for disclosing circumstances that are not acceptable according to research ethics.

Copyright and the right to publish must be regulated by explicit agreements. This also applies to the relationship between the commissioner, the research institution and the researcher in connection with commissioned research and reports.

37 Independence and conflict of interests

Both researchers and research institutions should maintain their independence in relation to their principals.

Both researchers and research institutions must avoid becoming dependent on their commissioners. Dependence may undermine their impartiality and the scientific quality of the research. This is particularly true if a single commissioner is responsible for a substantial portion of the researcher's or research institution's funding. It is therefore important for the researcher/institution and the commissioner not to have convergent interests to the point that they threaten the independence of the research (the vested interest threat). The sale of advisory or consulting services to actors who also have an interest in the research having a particular outcome may increase the vested interest threat.

Non-financial factors may also threaten independent research. Personal ties, either through family relations or as a result of long-term connections between the research institution/researcher and those taking part in the research projects may lead to dependence in several ways. These ties may lead to the research being used to promote the views and interests of certain parties (representative party threat), or it may lead to there not being sufficient distance between the researcher and the participants (threat to confidentiality), or it may lead to independence being threatened because the participants are in a position where they can influence the researcher (threat of pressure).

In some situations, the role of independent research may come into conflict with other roles the researcher may have, for example as adviser or consultant. If a researcher accepts an assignment that may undermine the institution's credibility, it is necessary to report the situation at the very least. In some situations, the conflict between roles will be so strong that the roles should not be combined.

38 Transparency in research funding

Both researchers and commissioners have a duty to make it publicly known who is funding the research.

It must be clear who is funding the research. Transparency concerning funding makes it easier for researchers to protect themselves against undue pressure and thus ensure the freedom and independence of the research. Moreover, commissioners have a reasonable claim to have their funding of research publicly known.

When researchers are going to publish and use results, they have an independent responsibility to be open and transparent about all ties (commissioners and funding etc.) that might have a bearing on the credibility of the research/reporting that has been conducted.

39 Presentation and use of results

Both researchers and commissioners have a responsibility to prevent research results from being presented in a misleading manner. It is unethical to delimit the subject of the research with a view to producing particularly desirable results, or to present research results in an intentionally skewed manner.

Commissioners may not withhold research results in such a way that the findings that are made public give a distorted picture of one or more circumstances. Researchers must be protected against undue pressure from the commissioner to draw particular conclusions, and in certain situations should invoke their right to withdraw from assignments.

Commissioners must accept that researchers have a right to discuss their mandates as part of research reporting: for example, to point out that perspectives, interpretations or considerations of manifest professional or practical relevance have been omitted from the mandate. The requirements regarding source material and valid reasoning are especially important when research may have consequences for the reputation or integrity of individuals or groups, or when it may affect political decisions. In such cases, it is particularly important for researchers to discuss alternative interpretations of their findings, or to point out scientific uncertainty. If the results are used in a selective or tendentious manner by a commissioner, researchers has an obligation to point this out, and to demand that the misleading presentation be corrected.

40 Right and duty to publish

Knowledge is a collective good, and as a general rule, all results should be published. This is also important to enable the results to be critically examined or re-used.

Generally, researchers have a right and duty to publish complete descriptions and results of research projects. This may be important both for preventing research results from being presented selectively or in a skewed manner, and for giving others the opportunity to test the results.

However, private companies and government agencies may have a legitimate desire to protect themselves and their interests. Both negotiating strategies and the interests of national security may dictate that publication should be postponed or, in special cases, that the results should not be published. With exceptions for such situations and privacy considerations, commissioners and researchers should endeavour to ensure that the public has access to results. Any restrictions on the right to publish must be stipulated by contract at the start of the project.


[36] Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, «Standard agreement for research and report assignments», Oslo 2012.