Ethics in Research
Still an Issue
by J.H. Meurman1⇑
Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Diseases, Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
J.H. Meurman, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Diseases, Helsinki University Hospital, PB 700, 00029 HUS, Helsinki, Finland. Email: jukka.meurman@helsinki.fiethical

Declaration of Helsinki dental research clinical research predator publishing dishonest

The International Association for Dental Research (IADR) Code of Ethics provides a set of guiding principles to promote exemplary ethical standards in research and scholarships by investigators and the IADR. The code is based on internationally accepted guidelines, such as the cornerstone of medical ethics, the Declaration of Helsinki. The guidelines of medical ethics are fairly new in the history of scientific research. They were developed first after World War II and have since been modified and updated several times as new issues have arisen (Wiesing et al. 2014).

The scope of ethical consideration has indeed markedly widened during the past decades. Molecular techniques and consequent genetic manipulations in general have opened unforeseen possibilities to explore, in depth, and understand the human being. These methods, in the wrong hands, also offer possibly dangerous developments by penetrating into the core of the self. Tailoring our off-springs and the whole human race is also becoming possible even though not legally allowed. High alertness is thus required from the research community (Morales 2009). In this regard, we already live in the brave new world visioned in science fiction. Oral health research is no exception or isolate either in this perspective.

I quote the Code of Ethics of our association.

All members of the IADR shall:

1. act with honor and in accordance with the highest standards of professional integrity;
2. conduct work with objectivity;
3. communicate in an honest and responsible manner;
4. show consideration and respect for all components of and individuals associated with the research process;
5. cultivate an environment whereby differences in perspective, experience and culture are recognized and valued;
6. maintain appropriate standards of accuracy, reliability, credit, candor and confidentiality in all research and scholarship activities;
7. use all resources prudently, taking into account appropriate laws and regulations.

There is not much to add to these. One may therefore question, why talk about ethics at all? Unfortunately, the research community is in need to be reminded repeatedly. Individual researchers and research groups can so easily be carried away in the highly competitive world of science with often fierce struggles for a place in the sun. Modern technology enables, for example, plagiarism so easily: just copy and paste phrases from others and present them as your own. Or in the laboratory, results can be tampered and even constructed out of nothing. These things have happened and are going to happen also in the future despite the meticulous review by outside experts, which is the norm in current scientific assessment and publishing.

The so-called predator publishing houses pose another trap. They accept anything provided the pay is enough. Money may have a stronger voice than the Code of Ethics. Thus, alertness is called for when selecting the publisher to research reports and articles. Some journals ask the authors themselves to suggest reviewers. It has happened that email addresses of suggested experts connect to the dishonest author, who then gives a positive statement using the fabricated name of an outside reviewer! This is another example how technology can be used to help in fraud. In this context, I remind that the IADR has recently launched a new journal, JDR Clinical and Translational Research, which together with its mother publication, the Journal of Dental Research, follows the strictest rules of ethical publication.

Clinical research in particular needs meticulous adherence to ethical principles. As the Declaration of Helsinki states, ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects, including research on identifiable human material and data, are always the first priority. These principles have brought the ethical committees and institutional review boards together with the now evident informed consent principle of study participants. Results from clinical research are impossible to publish in respectable forums if the ethical guidelines have not been followed. Corresponding strict guidelines are in use for animal studies, too. Whatever is the area of research, honesty and a certain degree of humility toward the results achieved should always be in place.

The world has become very open thanks to the worldwide web and the all-present social communication platforms. “Science” can be presented without any critical control or preview. I shall not give any examples here, but the reader certainly knows that such are many.

My slogan in the IADR vice-presidential election was “IADR to the Young.” In general, the IADR is there to help dental researchers to communicate and present their results. Thus, let the IADR board know what you can do for the IADR and what the IADR can do for you—irrespective of age, of course.

Now, as president of the IADR, I herewith appeal to you to regularly think and discuss with your colleagues and collaborators issues of ethics. Every new generation must be taught not to forget the lessons by Hippocrates and the reasons why mankind has established the rules of ethics for scientific research. To my knowledge, no major issues of ethics have been raised against the IADR membership to date, but let us keep in mind that reputation is something that only can be lost once.

The author(s) received no financial support and declare no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article.


↵ Morales NM. 2009. Psychological aspects of human cloning and genetic manipulation: the identity and uniqueness of human beings. Reprod Biomed Online. 19(Suppl 2):43–50. MedlineOrder article via InfotrieveWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar
↵ Wiesing U, Parsa-Parsi RW, Kloiber O editors. 2014. The World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki. 1964–2014, 50 years of evolution of medical research ethics. Ferney-Voltaire, France: The World Medical Association, Inc. Google Scholar