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Ethics and integrity: Building bridges for trust and excellence in research and innovation

Scientific and technological advancements raise complex ethical questions and may have significant societal impacts. The responsible and ethical use of scientific discoveries and novel technologies requires that reflection on the impacts and potential misuse of new technological developments is incorporated into the research process. The eight Horizon-funded projects featured in this Pack invite a rethinking of research governance systems, to ensure that scientific and technological progress, in all areas, goes hand in hand with the values we hold dear.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment
Society icon Society

Ethics and research integrity are prerequisites for research excellence and for maintaining the trust of society in science, and a critical factor in delivering human-centred green and digital innovations that incorporate our European values. Therefore, advancing ethics and research integrity is of utmost importance in ensuring the EU delivers high-quality science. As demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, amid unprecedented uncertainties, all eyes turn to science to provide guidance and answers. At the same time, the loss of trust in science can impact public health directly. When these crises pose new ethical and societal dilemmas, the consequences can be detrimental. Ensuring a high level of integrity and a high standard of ethics is not only necessary when designing and conducting research, it is of prime importance when making use of research results in a policy context.

World-leading ethical practices

Scientific and technological advancements, including artificial intelligence, new genomic techniques, biomedicine and geoengineering, synthetic biology, and neurotechnology raise complex ethical questions. Responsible research must reflect on the societal impacts and potential misuse of new technological developments. This requires a collective, wide-ranging and inclusive process of reflection and dialogue, based on the values around which we want to organise society and on the role that technologies should play in it. The European Union is duty-bound to protect and promote its fundamental values and principles, both at home and in international research and innovation (R&I cooperation). Therefore, the Horizon Europe framework requires full adherence to ethical principles, fundamental rights and applicable legislation, promotes an ethics-by-design approach for all relevant Horizon Europe actions, and leads the way in preventing ethics dumping and promoting equitable research partnerships. Addressing these challenges, the projects highlighted in this Pack illustrate how the EU is actively promoting the development of training, education and capacity-building regarding research integrity principles, and continuously supporting projects that analyse the ethical dimensions and implications of emerging technologies. The projects also promote a dialogue with global partners on ethics and integrity in research, building a constructive culture through improved frameworks, tools and operational procedures supporting the research community, institutions, funders and ethics bodies. The projects featured in this Pack address a range of aspects related to ethics and integrity in research. While the projects TechEthos and iRECS are supporting the ethical development and deployment of new technologies with potentially high socio-economic impact, the HYBRIDA project analyses the ethical and normative aspects stemming from organoids and their ethical governance. With ROSiE, the focus is instead on the importance of open science as a mechanism for reinforcing research integrity. Guidance has been provided on how to conduct responsible Open Science following ethical and integrity principles and values. The SOPs4RI project developed research integrity standard operating procedures for prevention, detection and handling of research misconduct in research institutions, and PRO-Ethics defined a new ethics framework for involving non-traditional stakeholders in research and innovation. Finally, ETHNA System developed an ethics guidance system for responsible research and innovation, while the PREPARED project is working on a framework to safeguard ethical values during accelerated research efforts undertaken in crisis situations.

Further research

The projects featured in this Results Pack illustrate the diversity and impact of recent efforts undertaken by EU-funded researchers to address the issues of ethics and integrity in research. The work builds upon a rich tradition of projects that have generated impactful long-lasting results. Notable examples: The TRUST project aimed to foster adherence to high ethical standards in research globally. Its Code of Conduct for Equitable Research Partnerships was translated into eleven languages, adopted by several international organisations, including the European Commission, and endorsed by the Council of the EU. SIENNA developed ethical protocols and codes in the three technology areas: human genomics; artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics; and human enhancement. The developed Ethical Guidance for Research with a Potential for Human Enhancement became a reference document for Horizon Europe applicants, and for the Horizon Europe ethics appraisal process. The SHERPA project developed recommendations to ensure that ethical and human rights issues regarding AI are recognised and addressed, produced guidelines on ethical development and use of AI, and contributed to the preparation of the Horizon Europe reference guidance on Ethics By Design and Ethics of Use Approaches for Artificial Intelligence. The project PANELFIT contributed to the development of a new ethical and legal framework for the governance of information and communication technologies. The vivid storytelling and role play in the Path2Integrity project’s Learning Card Programme help teach the fundamentals of research integrity to students and early-career researchers, while training modules developed by the INTEGRITY project present real-life academic and research dilemmas. The BEYOND project takes a behavioural and evidence-based approach to promote research ethics and research integrity in Europe, with robust methodologies for impactful training. In addition to individual projects, several networks have resulted from project activities. The European Network for Research Ethics and Integrity (ENERI) was set up as a permanent platform to facilitate communication and host practical recommendations and tools for researchers. The European Network of Research Ethics Committees (EUREC) promotes capacity building and assistance for Research Ethics Committees to cooperate in the EU’s European Research Area. The European Network of Research Integrity Offices (ENRIO) is an informal network that brings together experts dealing with questions about research integrity, while the Network for Education and Research Quality (NERQ) is a new initiative that resulted from the Path2Integrity and INTEGRITY projects, which aims to increase the quality of teaching in research integrity, research ethics and open science. Finally, the Embassy of Good Science Platform was set up as a result of EU-funded projects EnTIRE and VIRT2UE. The community platform offers support in handling day-to-day research practices and dilemmas, and hosts materials developed by other relevant EU-funded projects. The European Commission continues to fund projects that support researchers, research ethics committees, research integrity offices, policymakers and other relevant stakeholders. The recently launched RE4GREEN project aims to establish a research ethics and integrity framework in the European Research Area to facilitate the transition to a sustainable economy, while CHANGER aims at promoting changes in research ethics reviews by supporting researchers and Research Ethics Committees in addressing new challenges posed by new technologies and new research practices.