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Topic: Responsible Conduct of Research
April 17, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

One of my areas of research focus in bioethics is known as the responsible conduct of research (RCR) (a.k.a. research integrity). Research on research integrity covers a range of different norms and practices including authorship and publication ethics, research misconduct (fabrication, falsification and plagiarism), responsible mentorship, peer review, and RCR education among others. I have written on several of these topics in our AMBI blogs.

One of the topics I am interested in chatting about today is bias in the academic setting, but even more generally in the workplace. Much about research methodology aims to reduce or eliminate bias. For example, the experimental scientific method attempts to reduce bias by having proper controls, blinding researchers, and employing statistics so that we don’t over interpret our findings. Sociologists and other qualitative researchers may declare their biases when reporting research so the reader knows where the researcher is coming from. The entire concept of declaring conflicts of interest also aim to permit others to know what potential interest(s) the researcher may have which could bias their results. Moreover, the peer review process, which academia heavily relies on, aims to reduce bias in research. Peer review is not only used in the context of evaluating research, it also evaluates academic scholars for jobs, committee memberships, awards and scholarships, and other entitlements. One recent studydone by Drs. Daniele Fanelli and John Ioannidis showed the overestimation of effect sizes in behavioral research. Here the researchers performed a meta-analysis of meta-analyses (cleverly called meta meta-analysis) and found that researchers working in the behavioral, but not biomedical, sciences tended to exaggerate effects that were not supported by the data. Most interestingly, this exaggerated effect was heightened if the research had one or more US authors. While this sort of bias in the reporting of research may at first glance seem relatively benign, it actually has significant consequences because other researchers build on the results of previously published work and accumulatively, our social policies and clinical practices are based on evidence collected from such studies. Yet bias can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes in the academic and research context, some of which I think hits more personally to individual researchers.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

December 31, 2013 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Bioethics research is closely tied with policy. While discrepancies exist, I classify bioethics as an interdisciplinary field of study. As most interdisciplinary fields, one aim of bioethics is to develop practical solutions for real world problems in the biomedical and clinical sciences among other fields it impacts. Thus much of bioethics scholarship is closely intertwined and aims to inform health, social and science policy. Bioethics scholarship is also meaningful in attempting to raise awareness and educate researchers, practitioners, patients and the public on many areas of ethics in the health sciences. As a bioethics academic who has worked in both Canadian and U.S. institutions, I have enjoyed the benefit of examining policy and educational landscapes in both countries. Today, I want to specifically talk about research integrity policies, practices and education in Canada and compare it to the U.S.

What is research integrity?

Academics in every discipline including the fundamental and applied sciences (i.e., biomedical science, engineering), the social sciences, and humanities are self-governed professionals who conduct research upholding principles of research integrity. Research integrity (a.k.a. scientific integrity or the responsible conduct of research) captures a range of principles and practices governing ethical research. It includes practices such as research misconduct (commonly known as fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism), authorship and publication ethics, peer review, mentoring, conflicts of interest, research involving animals and humans and social responsibility. Yet beyond outlining principles and practices, there is a growing field of research on research integrity where scholars try and improve our understanding of the normative and practical aspects of research integrity. I’ve written about different topics within research integrity including what is conceptual bioethics research? and peer review in previous AMBI blogs.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

July 23, 2013 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Mentoring is critical to a successful and delightful academic career. It can make the difference between being passionate about your research, teaching and scholarship to dreading going to the laboratory or office. In my experience working in both academic and public service sectors, I have seen my share of good and bad mentors and mentoring practices. A good mentor can inspire the mentee to work harder and strive for the best while a bad mentor can create an unfriendly and unstable environment and demotivate even the brightest of people. If left unresolved, a poor environment or a bad relationship can escalate problems leading to personal feuds and unethical behaviors. I am sure everyone reading this post will remember one or more times, perhaps even currently, someone in their lab, school or workplace who was a poor mentor and leader. Personally, I have had several amazing mentors throughout my career and several mentors that still drudge up bad memories. From personal experience and from hearing stories of friends and colleagues, it almost seems that everyone has encountered a bad mentor at least once in their academic career. Perhaps this is because everyone talks about the bad apples and never the good ones. Regardless, it seems reasonable that there poor mentors are out there in academia.

The classic book Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering written by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine explains that ‘mentoring is a personal, as well as, professional relationship that develops over an extended period. Mentors take a special interest in helping another person develop into a successful professional.’ Mentoring permits someone with greater experience and knowledge to pass it on to the mentee and thus mentoring works at almost all levels from senior to junior students, post-doctoral fellows to graduate students, faculty to fellows and students, and senior faculty to junior faculty. There are many reasons why mentoring is important. A good mentor usually means a nurturing environment and a good mentor will serve to attract students, fellows and faculty, develop collaborations and strengthen their professional network, achieve self-satisfaction from mentoring, pass on knowledge and experience to the mentee, and advance the goals of academia – one of which is to educate and pass on knowledge and skills.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

June 7, 2013 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

I have commented previously on the stupidity with which some members of congress approach science. I never seem to have any trouble finding new material on this subject. The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology seems to be an especially rich source of such material.  You would think that the members of congress from Oklahoma and Texas would be pretty busy these days. With a huge fertilizer explosion in Texas and the direct hit of a massive EF5 tornado in More, Oklahoma the need for humanitarian aid and rebuilding would be enough to keep Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) and Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) quite busy, as well they should be. But these guys are nonetheless able to find plenty of time to mess with the operations of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Senator Coburn initiated this latest episode earlier this year by successfully attaching language to the 2013 appropriation for the National Science Foundation that prohibits funding for any political science research unless the director of the NSF certifies that it relates to national security or economic development. Representative Smith, the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology has now initiated an attempt to apply these principles to the entire portfolio of NSF funding in all disciplines. The current guidelines to reviewers of grant applications for funding by NSF to address the “intellectual merit” of the research proposal as well as its broader impact on society and the scientific community.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

February 22, 2013 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

The responsible conduct of research (RCR) (a.k.a. as research integrity) captures a range of ethical norms and practices which include research misconduct (generally defined as fabrication, falsification and plagiarism), authorship and publication ethics, the ethics of peer review, proper data management, mentoring, conflicts of interest, animal ethics, and the ethics of research involving humans. In some cases, topics such as animal ethics and the ethics of research involving humans are subfields of their own due to the extensive scholarship devoted to them. RCR has received considerable attention in many nations. For example, students and faculty may be required to receive education and training in RCR, several scholars study and perform research on research integrity, and many countries have developed policies to govern research integrity (Resnik and Master, 2013; Master, 2012). Yet most educational initiatives and research on research integrity center on the natural and applied sciences including, biomedical science, clinical research, engineering, and psychology. Fewer research integrity policies, education, and research is devoted to philosophy or law, or for multi or interdisciplinary fields such as bioethics.

I have previously argued that bioethicists need to pay closer attention to issues of research integrity. Why is this important? I define bioethics as an interdisciplinary field where scholars from philosophy, law, science, medicine, social science, nursing and anthropology come together to work on a common set of normative questions using a range of methods and theoretical lenses. By focusing efforts towards understanding research integrity practice, we will better understand the epistemic dimensions of our field, enhance integrity in bioethics scholarship, and be able to evaluate bioethicists more fairly. In turn, these efforts are likely to promote greater trust in bioethics by other academic scholars, among bioethicists, and the general public. Yet the field of bioethics has not paid close enough attention as it relates to research integrity issues of its own scholarship. Let’s focus on authorship as an example since this is one area that has most recently received some attention.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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