Secrecy in Research

A. Purpose

This policy establishes the University’s commitment to openness in research, defines and prohibits secrecy, including limitations on publishability of results, and describes certain circumstances that are acceptable under this policy.

B. Revision history

Originally issued: March 2000

C. Persons affected

All Northwestern Health Sciences University faculty engaged in research activities.

D. Related research policy documents

Academic Freedom

Rights and Responsibilities in the Conduct of Research

E. Policy

Northwestern Health Sciences University shall enter no contract and accept no grant to carry out research if the grant or contract restrains the freedom of the University to disclose:

  • the existence of the contract or grant or
  • the general nature of the inquiry to be conducted or
  • the identity of the outside contracting or granting entity or
  • the research results

Item 3 shall not apply either to anonymous gifts or grants that do not call for the performance of specified lines of inquiry, or to research grants or contracts from individuals or non-governmental entities who request anonymity out of a justifiable motivation to protect individual privacy.

A research program shall be regarded as unacceptable by reason of secrecy if:

  • any part of the sponsoring or granting documents that establish the project is not freely publishable;
  • any documents to be generated in the course of the research project will be subjected by an outside sponsor to restrictions on publication for a period in excess of that reasonably required for the sponsor to ascertain whether information he or she is entitled to have treated as confidential would be disclosed by publication; or
  • access to confidential data will be required in the course of the project such that a member of the research group who was not privy to the confidential data would be unable to participate fully in all of the intellectually significant portions of the project.

A program of research, appropriate to Northwestern Health Sciences University on other grounds, shall not be regarded as unacceptable by reason of secrecy merely because one or more of the following circumstances exists:

  • In a program of research involving human subjects, reasonable provision may be made to protect the rights of that individual to privacy.
  • In a program of research sponsored by an outside entity, provision may be made for a short delay in the publication of research results, for sponsor review of and comment on manuscripts, providing that no basis exists at the beginning of the project to expect that the sponsor would attempt either to suppress publication or to impose substantive changes in the manuscripts.

If, in a program of research, an outside person or entity has made available to the investigator confidential information, provision may be made to preserve confidentiality and/or a short delay in the publication of research results during which time the information source may examine the proposed publication in order to assure that the investigator has not disclosed, intentionally or unintentionally, any portion of the confidential information supplied, provided that he or she will not attempt to thwart publication for any reason except to protect confidential information previously supplied.

If, in a program of research, private papers, documents, diaries or analogous materials have been provided to the investigator, provision may be made to preserve the confidentiality of those materials for the purpose of protecting the individual privacy of the author, or of the addressee, or of the immediate family of either the author or the addressee.