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Topic: Responsible Conduct of Research
October 27, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

In a recent paper published in BMC Medical Ethics, my co-authors and I argued that there are unique issues in authorship in the context of global health research (GHR).Global health places priority on improving and ensuring equity in health worldwide. GHR is often multi/interdisciplinaryand involves large collaborative networks. Our analysis of authorship GHR applies to situations where researchers from high income countries (HICs) partner with those in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). First, let’s start by illustrating an example of a GHR research project. Let’s say that researchers wanted to study the genetics of a tropical disease. They wrote and succeeded in obtaining a U.S. National Institutes of Health funded grant. HIC researchers may bring to the collaboration scientific expertise, access to genomics/proteomic technologies, and may have been the main PI on the grant. LMIC researchers may be from a nation affected with the disease and can also provide scientific expertise, insight into local perceptions and realities, and access to the study population – the latter especially being difficult for HIC researchers given possible issues surrounding trust. Together, the team may gather epidemiological genetic data relevant to international public health interventions and also help address local needs and interests.

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.

September 2, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Scientist Yoshiki Sasai, age 52, committed suicide and was found dead on August 5, 2014. Sasai was deputy director of the Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) at RIKEN in Kobe, Japan, and coauthor on two recently retracted Nature papers about an easier way to make induced pluripotent stem cells. The papers were retracted due to duplication and manipulation of images done by the main researcher and lead author on the two papers – Haruko Obokata. Although cleared of any direct involvement, Sasai was under immense pressure and heavily scrutinized by the media, public and peers. This involved speculation about Sasai’s intentions to orchestrate a media frenzy, and for being overly ambitious and motivated to win future grants overlooking the integrity of the science.

According to colleagues at RIKEN, Sasai was receiving counseling since the scandal broke headlines and he was also hospitalized for about a month in March (1). He was found hanging in a stairwell of a neighboring building and beside him were three letters addressed to CDB management, his laboratory, and Obokata. On August 12, Kazuhiro Nakamura, the family lawyer explained the contents of Sasai’s suicide note left for the family. Sasai was “worn out by the unjust bashing in the mass media and the responsibility he felt towards RIKEN and his laboratory” (2). But unsubstantiated claims in the media were not the only source of stress for Sasai. The speculation in tabloids might have also influenced how RIKEN and other colleagues behaved towards Sasai. In June, a report released by an independent RIKEN reform committee criticized CDB leaders for hyping the science and did not interview Sasai about such accusations. Their final recommendation was to dismantle CDB. According to the family lawyer, this was a tremendous shock for Sasai (2).

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 10, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Both parts I and II of this blog were originally published as a commentary in the Office of Research Integrity’s Newsletter (http://ori.hhs.gov/newsletters) Volume 22, Number 2, March 2014 and has been reproduced with permission for the AMBI blog.

In Part I, published last month, I discussed my experience organizing and developing a responsible conduct of research (RCR) workshop for stem cell scientists that was held at the Till and McCulloch Meeting in October 2013 as part of Canada’s Stem Cell Network at http://www.stemcellnetwork.ca. In Part 2, I discuss the importance of developing RCR pedagogy that includes both lecture and informational components, and provides ethical cases such that students have a rich understanding of normative, policy, and practical aspects to different RCR topics.

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 19, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

By sharing a recent experience in which I delivered a lecture and case at a responsible conduct of research (RCR) workshop for biomedical science trainees, I will comment on why I believe that pedagogy on the RCR, specifically for biomedical scientists, needs two essential ingredients: delivering knowledge/information and providing case-based learning. The art is to determine how much of each element is needed and how to most effectively deliver information on an RCR topic and ensure trainees get the most from the ethical analysis of cases.

Ethics Workshop: Responsible Research Conduct & Misconduct in Stem Cell Research

As part of Canada’s Stem Cell Network at http://www.stemcellnetwork.ca, I had the unique opportunity to organize and present an Ethics Workshop as part of the Network’s annual Till & McCulloch Meetings in October 2013. The workshop was a lecture followed by an interactive ethical case using “The Lab: Avoiding Research Misconduct” video hosted by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) athttps://ori.hhs.gov/thelab. The 50 to 60 workshop attendees were primarily master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral trainees, and almost all were biomedical researchers working with stem cells. Most attendees had never heard of RCR. Thus, the goals of the workshop were modest and involved introducing attendees to the following: RCR, research misconduct (fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism), the RCR link to scientific retractions, issues of authorship and publication ethics, and Canada’s RCR framework.

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.

May 16, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Last month, I discussed bias in academia and more specifically in the workplace. Just to recap, there are several studies that show bias in peer review and bias or favoritism in the workplace. Much of the bias may be unconscious or what is considered “hidden bias” and is not shown overtly. In this month’s blog, I propose three steps to reduce bias in the workplace.

The solutions proposed here are geared towards academic work environments at the departmental level in one of the three settings: 1) professors or research scientists running a lab or a research group who supervise research assistants, students, fellows and staff; 2) department directors/heads; and 3) members and chairs of committees charged with the selection of candidates for awards, prizes, and positions. While I am not applying these steps to the peer review of grants or publications, some of the points may be helpful to reduce bias in peer review processes.

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.

May 8, 2014 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

The Graduate Studies Program of AMC has provided education and training in research integrity and the responsible conduct of research (RCR) since the early 1990s. This program has been directed to graduate students in the basic sciences working toward masters and doctoral degrees and to post-doctoral fellows in the basic sciences. The impetus for initiation of such education and training was the mandate issued by the National Institutes of Health that required a description of activities related to instruction in RCR in institutional training grant applications. We will describe the initiation, development, evolution, and current status of our curriculum.

The individual training grant directors were responsible for the initial activities of this endeavor, which were sporadic, inconsistent, and undocumented. Subsequently, in 1994, the Dean of AMC charged the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, who happened to be me, with the task of developing a formal graduate course to address this mandate.

This task was initially addressed by identifying faculty who would develop and teach this course, create curriculum plans and objectives, and identify materials useful in teaching. This process also included self-education because this area had not been previously taught here. It also involved a good deal of public relations because most students and faculty resisted the implementation of training in RCR as an intrusion upon time that should be most profitably spent in the laboratory.

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.

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.

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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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