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Ethics Behav. 2004;14(4):383-95.

Is compliance a professional virtue of researchers? Reflections on promoting the responsible conduct of research.

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  • 1Center for Health Care Ethics, Saint Louis University, Salus Center, 221 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63103-2006, USA.


Evidence exists that behavioral and social science researchers have been frustrated with regulations and institutional review boards (IRBs) from the 1970s through today. Making matters worse, many human participants protection instruction programs--now mandated by IRBs--offer inadequate reasons why researchers should comply with regulations and IRBs. Promoting compliance either for its own sake or to avoid penalties is contrary to the developmental aims of moral education and may be ineffective in fostering the responsible conduct of research. This article explores the concept of professional virtue and argues that compliance is capable of becoming a professional virtue like scientific honesty. This requires, however, that regulatory and IRB demands contribute to human well-being and to the aims of research as a profession and that researchers, therefore, internalize the norms that underlie regulatory and IRB demands. This, in turn, requires a series of changes in the way society develops, promulgates, and enforces regulatory and IRB rules. The challenge is, simply put, to embed compliance into the world of living morality.

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