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Guideline 2

Professional ethics

Researchers are responsible for putting the fundamental values and norms of research into practice and advocating for them. Education in the principles of good research begins at the earliest possible stage in academic teaching and research training. Researchers at all career levels regularly update their knowledge about the standards of good research practice and the current state of the art.


Experienced and early career researchers support each other in a process of continuous mutual learning and ongoing training and maintain a regular dialogue.

Professional ethics in the life sciences

Compliance with ethical and legal requirements is absolutely essential when planning and conducting research into living organisms. In the planning of any experiment on living higher organisms, there is always a delicate balance to be struck between the informative value of the experiment and the ethically justifiable burden placed on the organism. These conflicting interests are reflected in the professional ethics of life scientists. Examples of how this issue is addressed are to be found in the professional ethics of doctors, for instance – especially in connection with studies on human beings (e.g. Declaration of Helsinki), specifically in the conduct of clinical studies and in the requirements for research that involves animal experiments. In research that is carried out on and with highly pathogenic organisms and toxins, it is important to take safety-relevant aspects into account (dual use), which is why these have come to be incorporated in professional ethics in this area.

In addition to responsibility for living organisms, a wide range of questions in the life sciences are concerned with responsibility for ecosystems and the fundamental resources required for human existence. This aspect is also reflected in professional ethics in the life sciences. It is particularly evident in the use of genetic resources in a global context and the associated Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): compliance with this convention is a key factor that is essential to professional ethics in numerous fields within the life sciences.

Given that research subjects are often highly complex and subject to variable influencing factors, extremely rigorous standards apply when it comes to ensuring an open-ended and knowledge-driven research approach. For this reason, sceptical and self-critical consideration and interpretation of results is particularly crucial in the life sciences and essential to professional practice. When it comes to complex issues, the clustering of expertise from various disciplines and research groups is imperative, too. It is therefore especially important for life scientists to be aware of the limits of their own abilities and close any gaps that may exist in this regard. Cooperation requires appreciative behaviour across disciplinary boundaries.

With regard to the above-mentioned requirements, key elements of professional ethics in the life sciences include openness and transparency, compliance with data protection legislation and the consistent avoidance of conflicts of interest.

The comment belongs to the following categories:

GL2 (Life sciences)