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Reflections on case: ‘Racist bus drivers project’0

 

All views expressed in this post are my own and not of my employer, the national committees which I have served on, nor my consultancy clients

The case relates to action taken by University of Queensland against Prof. Paul Frijters because of his alleged conduct of a project without appropriate ethical clearance. The project related to the deception of participants (Brisbane bus drivers) and the dissemination of findings that reflected on them poorly as a cohort. The Bissert determination overturned UQ’s actions on procedural grounds without comment on the underlying ethical issue of the conduct of the project without the appropriate ethical clearance.

It is understood (see http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/uq-suppressed-bus-racism-study-academics-20150226-13q5lu.html) that Prof. Frijters disputes that university ethical clearance was required. The determination does reflect to some degree on the process followed to determine whether research ethics review and ethical clearance was required (e.g. provisions 286, 291 and 322-336). However it does not proffer a view as to whether prior research ethics review was required.

The substance of the Fair Work Act determination is that UQ failed to adhere to the misconduct provisions of its enterprise bargaining agreement, the framing its own research misconduct processes and denied Prof. Frijters procedural fairness.

The determination (pp21-22) rejects UQ’s assertion that the research misconduct procedure is exempt from the requirements/rights/redress articulated by the relevant enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).

The case highlights the importance of carefully describing the interface between research misconduct procedures vis-à-vis the Australian Code and misconduct procedures as described in the Academic EBA (and indeed the general staff EBA for research assistants and student misconduct policies). This is perhaps most acute when the research misconduct process will be making the substantive determination that there is ‘a case to answer’ and the EBA process will largely be an operational application of punitive consequences of the finding of a case to answer.

The case also highlights that correspondence from a respondent (such as disputing the process or the findings of the reviewing officer) should be considered both in terms of its research integrity and its human resources (i.e. EBA process) implications. Another matter Bissert found troubling was the replacement and appointment of supervisors to Prof. Frijters, especially given the important role of supervisors described by the misconduct procedures.

The implications of the determination by Bissett are:

  1. the conduct of procedures to determine facts (e.g. whether research misconduct appears to have occurred) may be externally judged with regard to the appropriate industrial instrument (e.g. the academic EBA) even if a university contends those processes are specifically intended to operate outside of the EBA;
  2. (in light of i) the process for determining the review officer and decision maker may need to be more carefully framed;(*)
  3. (in light of i) a respondent should have access to a union or other representative;
  4. reviews and the provision of outcomes to respondents should be dealt with in a timely manner;
  5. correspondence from a complainant expressing dispute with proceedings should always be considered by a Human Resources Department staff member (to determine the EBA implications of the matters raised).

This may necessitate a complete rethinking of the approach many universities take to ‘Part B’ proceedings and allegations. The matters to consider include research integrity (e.g. adherence to the Australian Code), human resources (e.g. with regard to misconduct proceedings articulated by the relevant EBAs), and institutional compliance (e.g. as per the ARC/MHMRC deeds of agreement and annual compliance reporting).

Largely lost (except for provisions 286, 291 and 322-336) throughout the discussion about correct procedures and the EBA is the degree to which failure to seek ethical clearance is a serious matter especially as the project involved overt deception and risk. It also involved ‘agents acting on behalf of the researchers’ unlawfully seeking to evade paying for travel. The assessment of these matters requires a sophisticated understanding of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research and Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. Arguably it appears the University did not adequately consider whether social science research (at least from one academic area) is being correctly submitted for prior research ethics review.

Update 15/06/16 – UQ economist Paul Frijters quits over strife from race study

(*) It is not entirely clear why the Head of School, as Prof Frijters’ line supervisor was not an appropriate person to conduct the investigation. At various points in the process, different reasons were offered. 

Contributor
Dr Gary Allen is a Senior Policy Adviser in the Office for Research at Griffith University
Click here for Gary’s AHRECS bio

This post may be cited as: Allen G. (2016, 13 June) Reflections on case: ‘Racist bus drivers project’. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from:
https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/reflections-case-frijters-vs-uq-racist-bus-drivers-project

Comparing research integrity responses in Australia and The Netherlands3

 

Last year, I was invited by Tracey Bretag to contribute a chapter to the Handbook of Academic Integrity. The invite was a little unusual – find another author and work with him or her to compare how research integrity has been dealt with in your two jurisdictions. It could have gone horribly wrong. It didn’t, for two reasons. First, I was delighted to be partnered with Pieter Drenth whose career happens to include a period as Vice-Chancellor of VU University Amsterdam, and President of both the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and the ALLEA (All European Academies). Secondly, the exercise of comparing research integrity strategies in Australia and The Netherlands actually proved to be highly productive, helped me understand some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Australian response, and was a timely reminder of the value of assessing critically what might be happening in research integrity beyond the borders of our own countries.

The chapter has just been published (Israel and Drenth, 2016). In it, we argue…

In Australia and the Netherlands, research institutions and their funders, as well as academics, state integrity agencies, judges, governments, and journalists, have contributed to the development of rules and procedures that might help prevent, investigate, and respond to research fraud and misconduct. Both countries have experienced scandals and have ended up with codes, investigatory committees, and national research integrity committees.

National policy has created a series of expectations for research institutions. However, in both countries, the primary responsibility for research integrity remains with the institutions under whose auspices the research is carried out, as well as with the researchers themselves. Research institutions have to decide how to respond to misconduct, albeit in ways that are open to scrutiny by national advisory committees, the media, courts, and state accountability mechanisms. As a result, many institutions have amended and sharpened their own codes and regulations; refined their mechanisms for advising staff, reporting and investigating suspected misconduct, and responding to findings of misconduct; improved their protection rules for whistleblowers; regulated data storing and archiving; and sought to foster greater transparency in both their research and research integrity procedures. However, while researchers have been encouraged to embed awareness and acknowledgment of these principles through teaching, supervision, and mentoring of students and junior staff, less effort has been placed on resourcing good practice, tracing and understanding the causes of misconduct, and on fostering and entrenching a research culture invested with the values of professional responsibility and integrity.

Other chapters in the research integrity part of the Handbook compare combinations of Austria, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, China and Korea, and there are plenty of other contributors to the volume from Australia, including Brian Martin (with one chapter on plagiarism and another on the relationship between integrity and fraud – a topical issue, given the recent sentencing of Bruce Murdoch) and David Vaux (scientific misconduct).

Reference
Israel, M & Drenth, PJD (2016) Research Integrity in Australia and the Netherlands. In Bretag, T (ed.) Handbook of Academic Integrity. Springer. ISBN 978-981-287-097-1 http://www.springer.com/gp/book/9789812870971

Contributor
Mark Israel is professor of law and criminology at The University of Western Australia.
Click here for Mark’s AHRECS bio
Click here for Mark’s UWA page

This post may be cited as: Israel M. (2016, 17 May) Comparing research integrity responses in Australia and The Netherlands. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from:
https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/comparing-research-integrity-responses-australia-netherlands

We would all benefit from more research integrity research1

 

Paul M Taylor1 and Daniel P Barr2

1Director, Research Integrity, Governance and Systems
Research and Innovation, RMIT University (paul.taylor@rmit.edu.au)

2Acting Director, Office for Research Ethics and Integrity
Research, Innovation and Commercialisation, The University of Melbourne (dpbarr@unimelb.edu.au)

We need more research into research integrity, research misconduct and peer review. This is not a controversial statement, and few would argue against it. So, this is a short blog post then…

It’s worth thinking about why we think that more research into these areas is important and needed. The research that has been reported in the literature is valuable to us and has produced some fascinating insights. We see differences in attitudes in different countries and career stages, and evidence about the impacts of research misconduct. Like all good research, the material already in the literature prompts us to ask more questions than it answers.

But, do we think that the same surveys about the incidence of research misconduct or attitudes to research integrity would reveal the same results for humanities and social science researchers as those in STEM disciplines? Are biomedical researchers in Australia or the UK as likely or more likely to commit research misconduct? Do RCR training packages help prevent misconduct? Is this even what we want RCR training to do? How do we best design and implement research integrity policies? Are principles really better than rules in this context? There’s a handful of grant applications right there!

Perhaps a research integrity ecosystem view would help. What are the challenges that some of the key stakeholders in research integrity are facing and how could research help?

We can start close to home by thinking about the role of institutions in research integrity. The most obvious role of institutions in this area is in responding to allegations of research misconduct. This role is entirely reasonable because of the nature of the relationship between researchers and their workplaces – employment contracts can compel people to provide evidence, and institutions may have better access to data and records that can make the difference in allegations being properly resolved. Certainly compared to other players, institutions are in the best position to consider concerns about the integrity of research. We know that there is not uniformity though in the way institutions respond. Our friends at COPE have talked about the difficulty that publishers face in sometimes even identifying a place to direct concerns. What’s the opportunity for research here? Analysis of institutions to identify traits that are found in ‘good responders’ would help those institutions trying to improve their operations in this area. How critical is the role of senior leadership? What are the impacts, at an institutional level, of a high profile or public misconduct case? How does this impact differ for highly-ranked, ‘too big to fall’ institutions compared with younger organisations? What are the factors that people see that makes them think an institution produces responsible and trustworthy research (if the institution plays that much of a role at all)?

This leads to a second and equally important role for institutions in promoting the importance of responsible and ethical research. It extends way beyond compliance (although this is obviously important). The products of research, as many and varied as they are, must be trustworthy because of the positive impacts that we all hope research will have. So, if an institution decided it wanted to revamp its research governance framework or Code of Conduct for Research, what should it focus on? What evidence do we have, in the research context, to support the idea of Codes of Conduct? Are high-level, principles-based documents that cover most research disciplines useful or are more discipline-focussed rules-based governance structures more effective? How do institutions best engender a strong culture of research integrity?

The role of training here is intuitive and probably right, but can we show that this makes a difference and results in more trustworthy, higher quality research, or does it just make us feel better? Publishers and funders too could benefit from the added insights that research would reveal. Perhaps for both of these players, understanding better the pitfalls of peer review, or development of rigorous alternative models? Research into peer review is already happening, but there could and should be more. What is the best way to distribute mostly decreasing pools of funds to highly competitive funding applicants? How consistent is the decision-making of grant review panels or journal editors? How influential are locations or institutions and ‘big names’ on manuscript or grant review processes and should all reviews be double-blind? Decisions based on peer review are intrinsic and integral to the research process. We should thoroughly understand how these processes are working and what we should do to try and make them work better.

The final group to talk about here are the researchers themselves, perhaps the most important part of the research integrity ecosystem. Given an opportunity, most researchers enjoy talking about the way research works and their own research practice. Listening to conversations between microbiologists and historians about publication rates and funding challenges, data generation and curation, and team research or sole-trader models is intriguing and very interesting. Research about attitudes towards research integrity and how it fits (or doesn’t fit) the way researchers do their research would be valuable. Fundamentally, researchers critically assess new or existing information to find new ideas or solutions. It should come as no surprise when the same critical assessment is applied to proposals for them to reconsider the way they do their research. ‘Research integrity research’ would help to support changes in behaviour that increase the trustworthiness and quality of research. This is really the goal of research integrity.

There’s no shortage of questions to answer. There’s growing awareness of research integrity as a discipline in it’s own right (perhaps it the ultimate interdisciplinary research area). There’s new places for this research to be found (like Research Integrity and Peer Review). The benefits are compelling and clear. What are we waiting for? *Paul is a member of the Editorial Board of Research Integrity and Peer Review. Aside from that, neither Paul nor Dan have any conflicts of interest to disclose, but they hope to in the near future.

This blog may be cited as:
Taylor P and Barr DP. (2016, 10 May) We would all benefit from more research integrity research. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/benefit-research-integrity-research

Institutional approaches to research integrity: Tilting at blazing windmills?2

 

Not so many years ago in Australia if you entered a research office and asked what they were doing about research integrity, you would probably be pointed sagely toward a back corner and a dusty shelf. In that forgotten corner you would find the Joint NHMRC AVCC Statement (1997) and perhaps the policies on authorship, CoI and publication ethics. Rigid rules stored behind neglected glass to be broken and used only in the event of a juicy scandal. Especially if that scandal was bad enough to attract the bored attention of the media and so also that of a ministerial staffer waiting for the chance to impress her boss.

The arrival of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007) brought with it the whiff of welcome change. Things were poised to get better. Even though half of the document was devoted to research misconduct and the linguistically oddly named ‘breaches of the Code” it was also replete with references to institutional responsibilities and even the previously unmentioned role of research culture.

But what happened instead was…

Large consultancy firms, form makers and HR specialists got involved. Any notion of resourcing researchers honestly discussing contributions to a piece of work and agreeing how to acknowledge contributions was replaced by a compulsory form, and internationally lauded IT systems, and by sanctions intended to slam any non-compliers into submission.

If “responsible conduct of research” means what it appears to mean and not its opposite (as those initial responses suggested), institutional approaches to research integrity must surely become about doing research well. Those of us who talk about research integrity would no longer be dismissed as someone riding in on a donkey, wooden sword in hand talking about our mission to civilize bureaucratic arrangements and give research integrity back to researchers.

The questionable Miguel de Cervantes allusion notwithstanding, there’s a serious point to be made for researchers, research managers and regulators. Investing in compliance systems, bureaucratic processes and law firms, is not a positive investment in the research culture of an institution. Instead, research integrity must be approached like any cultural change objective — it needs to practitioner focused, include practical and helpful resources and firmly reject the sanction/enforcement model.

Spending money on an off-the-shelf framework might appear to be a major demonstrable investment in responsible research at an institution, but it misses the fundamental flaw in Weberian Orthodoxy: more rules, tougher sanctions and better forms cannot possibly shift the culture of conduct of something as diverse and complex as academic research. Punishing the 99.99% of researchers to catch the 00.01% is not only unbalanced, unsustainable and toxic, there are good reasons to be confident that the malicious minority won’t be caught by a punitive framework. Instead, these very few miscreants will game and avoid the system, misrepresent, deceive and avoid, no doubt prompting a fresh round of tough institutional strategies.

Working together we all need to shift the discourse about research integrity from compliance with rules to prevent misconduct to resourcing practice and valuing positive role models.

What might a more positive approach look like:

1) Integrity advisers who have the role of providing collegiate advice on excellent practice, how best to avoid common pitfalls, and who can promote the message research integrity is primarily about research practice;

2) Resources that support reflective practice and encourage engaged discussion between collaborators;

3) A considerable focus on research training that is disciplinary and methodologically relevant, with different strategies and content to match the expertise of researchers; and

4) First and foremost distributing ownership of the institution’s research integrity arrangements so they belong to the entire research community and are the responsibility of every member of that community.

And now a new edition of the Australian Code is on the horizon. Expecting all researchers irrespective of field, discipline and area of practice to complete a dual usage form is not a promising sign. It seems it’s not yet time to retire my trusty donkey and wooden sword.

References

NHMRC/AVCC (1997) Joint NHMRC / AVCC Statement and Guidelines on Research Practice. Available at: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/r24 (accessed 12 October 2015).

NHMRC (2007) Australian Code for the responsible conduct of research. Available at: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/r39 (accessed 12 October 2015).

Disclaimer
The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Griffith University, AHRECS, my consultancy clients or the NHMRC committees I serve on.

Gary Allen,
Office for Research,
Griffith University
Gary’s AHRECS profile
Gary’s Griffith University profile

This blog may be cited as:
Allen, G (2015, 19 October) Institutional approaches to research integrity: Tilting at blazing windmills?. AHRECS Blog. Retrieved from https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/institutional-approaches-to-research-integrity-tilting-at-blazing-windmills

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