Research ethics is concerned with the moral issues that arise during or as a result of research activities, as well as the ethical conduct of researchers. Historically, the revelation of scandals such as Nazi human experimentation and the Tuskegee syphilis experiment led to the realisation that clear measures are needed for the ethical governance of research to ensure that people, animals and environments are not unduly harmed in research. The management of research ethics is inconsistent across countries and there is no universally accepted approach to how it should be addressed.[46][47][48] Informed consent is a key concept in research ethics.

When making ethical decisions, we may be guided by different things and philosophers commonly distinguish between approaches like deontology, consequentialism, virtue ethics and value (ethics). Regardless of approach, the application of ethical theory to specific controversial topics is known as applied ethics and research ethics can be viewed as a form of applied ethics because ethical theory is applied in real-world research scenarios.

Ethical issues may arise in the design and implementation of research involving human experimentation or animal experimentation. There may also be consequences for the environment, for society or for future generations that need to be considered. Research ethics is most developed as a concept in medical research, the most notable Code being the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki. Research in other fields such as social sciences, information technology, biotechnology, or engineering may generate different types of ethical concerns to those in medical research.[46][47][49][50][51][52]

In countries such as Canada, mandatory research ethics training is required for students, professors and others who work in research.[53][54]

Nowadays, research ethics is commonly distinguished from matters of research integrity that includes issues such as scientific misconduct (e.g. fraud, fabrication of data or plagiarism).