Introducing a new approach to address inclusion and ethics in global research

Springer Nature Group
By: Magdalena Skipper and Sowmya Swaminathan, Tue May 31 2022

Author: Magdalena Skipper and Sowmya Swaminathan

This week Nature Portfolio set out steps to address inclusion and ethics in global research collaborations with a focus on practices such as ‘helicopter research’1 and ‘ethics dumping’2

Unfortunately, these practices can be prevalent in many different types of settings but are most commonly associated with situations marked by legacies of unequal partnership, for example, collaborations between high income countries and low middle income countries and research with historically marginalized groups within countries. Research across similar settings of privilege and power is also not immune to these detrimental research practices.  

In a Nature editorial released to coincide with the World Conference on Research Integrity, we stress that inclusion and equity in global collaborations is not only a moral imperative but it is also vital for producing reliable and trusted research. We hope that our engagement and that of others on these issues will have a positive impact on the development of the Cape Town statement. 

How we’re taking action

Current Springer Nature Foreign and Local Authorship policy encourages working with local collaborators and researchers, and providing attribution in authorship or acknowledgements (where collaboration does not meet authorship standards). After an extensive consultative process, Nature Portfolio is now going further to further support inclusive collaborations. Using the Global Code of Conduct, a code of ethics for equitable research partnerships, embraced by funders and institutions as an orienting framework for our approach, and taking inspiration from the San Code of Research Ethics, we are taking action in the following four ways:

  • Raising awareness: Nature Portfolio will encourage authors to consider the Global Code when developing, conducting and communicating their study.
  • Creating transparency: Authors will be encouraged to provide an optional ‘Inclusion and Ethics’ disclosure statement during peer review and in the published paper.
  • Citation diversity: They will also be asked to consider citation diversity specifically for local and regional research.
  • Inclusive peer review: An internal standard will be set to involve local and regional experts in peer review. 

In addition, we have created a dedicated section on inclusion and ethics in our Authorship Policy which encourages authors to provide a disclosure built around specific listed questions, and we have included the new guidance in the Editorial Policy Checklist so authors are aware of it throughout the course of their usual publishing workflow.

We are taking a first step in trying out a new approach with Nature Portfolio journals but it is our ambition that this will both advocate for a new standard of inclusion and ethics in research and stimulate discussion more broadly across the industry. 


  1. Helicopter/parachute research or colonial research: when researchers from HIC countries carry out research in LMIC settings with little, no, or exploitative involvement of local communities or local researchers in the conceptualization, design, conduct and publication of the research.
  2. “Ethics dumping”: exporting unethical research practices to low and middle income countries that are typically not permissible in HICs but can intentionally or inadvertently exploit regulatory loopholes or vulnerabilities in systems in LMICs (Eg., clinical trials for cervical cancer screening in India between 1998-2015 included a “no screening” control arm which would not have been permissible in the US, funded by NIH & BMGF, collaboration with IARC).   Concept extends to any aspect of research design and conduct including animal welfare, environmental protection, collection of fossils and archaeological material.

Author: Magdalena Skipper and Sowmya Swaminathan

Magdalena Skipper, Editor in Chief, Nature is a geneticist by training and has considerable editorial and publishing experience: having started in Nature Publishing Group in 2001, she was Chief Editor of Nature Reviews Genetics, Senior Editor for genetics and genomics at Nature, and more recently Executive Editor for the Nature Partner Journals. Before joining Nature as Editor in Chief she was Editor in Chief of Nature Communications. She studied sex determination at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK, and Notch signalling in the vertebrate gut epithelium at the ICRF Laboratories (CRUK today), London. She is passionate about mentorship, transparent science and clarity in science communication. She has a keen interest in innovation in science publishing.

Sowmya Swaminathan is Head of Editorial Policy & Research Integrity for Nature Portfolio. She represents Nature and Springer Nature on multiple community and industry forums and collaborations, and most recently been involved in the development of The MDAR Framework, aligned minimum standards for transparent reporting and open research practices in the life sciences. Sowmya is the Chair of Springer Nature’s Research Publishing DEI Programme and a member of the Springer Nature DEI Council. She is a strong advocate of working in coalition with diverse stakeholders across the research ecosystem toward solutions that benefit the research community.

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