BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-11 (2021)

Hugh Desmond
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Background Professional communities such as the medical community are acutely concerned with negligence: the category of misconduct where a professional does not live up to the standards expected of a professional of similar qualifications. Since science is currently strengthening its structures of self-regulation in parallel to the professions, this raises the question to what extent the scientific community is concerned with negligence, and if not, whether it should be. By means of comparative analysis of medical and scientific codes of conduct, we aim to highlight the role of negligence provisions in codes of conduct for scientists, and to discuss the normative consequences for future codes of conduct. Methods We collected scientific and medical codes of conduct in a selection of OECD countries, and submitted each code of conduct to comparative textual analysis. Results Negligence is invariably listed as an infraction of the norms of integrity in medical codes of conduct, but only rarely so in the scientific codes. When the latter list negligence, they typically do not provide any detail on the meaning of ‘negligence’. Discussion Unlike codes of conduct for professionals, current codes of conduct for scientists are largely silent on the issue of negligence, or explicitly exclude negligence as a type of misconduct. In the few cases where negligence is stipulated to constitute misconduct, no responsibilities are identified that would help prevent negligence. While we caution against unreasonable negligence provisions as well as disproportionate sanctioning systems, we do argue that negligence provisions are crucial for justified trust in the scientific community, and hence that there is a very strong rationale for including negligence provisions in codes of conduct.
Keywords Research integrity  Medical professionalism  Trust  Science policy  Negligence
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DOI 10.1186/s12910-021-00610-w
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