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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

What not to do in graduate school – Nature (Buddini Karawdeniya | July 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on April 3, 2020

Six limiting maxims PhD students should avoid.

During my time as a graduate student researching analytical sensors in the Dwyer laboratory at The University of Rhode Island in South Kingstown, I made a lot of mistakes — some of which matured into valuable lessons. If you are already in graduate school, or have decided to start, here are six things I recommend you do not do.

Compare yourself with others

I’ve met many scientists who spiral into stress and disappointment because they compare themselves unfavourably with others. Every research field, project and graduate student is unique. In some fields, it can take years to find a breakthrough worth publishing; in others, it’s easier to publish frequently. I became worried by the third year of my PhD, when it seemed as if it was taking me longer than others to publish my research project. It took me almost six years to complete my PhD, but my hard work paid off when I published a piece on my flagship project in Nature Communications, alongside almost a dozen other publications and two patent applications from various other projects. Instead of looking at what others are doing, learn to be introspective. Grow from your mistakes, and find more efficient and effective work tactics.

Blindly trust your data

I have learnt to be suspicious of my data. Consider what could go wrong when obtaining them — if something seems weird or wrong in some way, it probably is. I was once designing a sensor that would detect minuscule amounts of chemicals with a laser. One day, thrillingly, the signal looked fabulous: the laser power was turned all the way to the highest setting instead of my usual setting; and the higher the laser power, the higher the signal. Although it looked great, it turned out that the equipment was enormously overestimating the sensing performance and was therefore producing useless data. Be aware of issues such as sample contamination, labelling errors or faulty instrument calibrations. Just because you yourself obtained the data, do not blindly trust them.

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Exempting low-risk health and medical research from ethics reviews: comparing Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands (Papers: Anna Mae Scott, et al | January 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on April 1, 2020


Disproportionate regulation of health and medical research contributes to research waste. Better understanding of exemptions of research from ethics review in different jurisdictions may help to guide modification of review processes and reduce research waste. Our aim was to identify examples of low-risk human health and medical research exempt from ethics reviews in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands.

We examined documents providing national guidance on research ethics in each country, including those authored by the National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia), National Health Service (United Kingdom), the Office for Human Research Protections (United States) and the Central Committee on Research Involving Humans (the Netherlands). Examples and types of research projects exempt from ethics reviews were identified, and similar examples and types were grouped together.

Nine categories of research were exempt from ethics reviews across the four countries; these were existing data or specimen, questionnaire or survey, interview, post-marketing study, evaluation of public benefit or service programme, randomised controlled trials, research with staff in their professional role, audit and service evaluation, and other exemptions. Existing non-identifiable data and specimens were exempt in all countries. Four categories – evaluation of public benefit or service programme, randomised controlled trials, research with staff in their professional role, and audit and service evaluation – were exempted by one country each. The remaining categories were exempted by two or three countries.

Examples and types of research exempt from research ethics reviews varied considerably. Given the considerable costs and burdens on researchers and ethics committees, it would be worthwhile to develop and provide clearer guidance on exemptions, illustrated with examples, with transparent underpinning rationales.

Scott, A.M., Kolstoe, S., Ploem, M.C., Hammatt, Z. & Glasziou, P.  (2020) Exempting low-risk health and medical research from ethics reviews: comparing Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands. Health Research Policy and Systems. 18(11).
Publisher (Open Access):

A toast to the error detectors – Nature (Simine Vazire | December 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on March 24, 2020

Let 2020 be the year in which we value those who ensure that science is self-correcting.

Last month, I got a private Twitter message from a postdoc bruised by the clash between science as it is and how it should be. He had published a commentary in which he pointed out errors in a famous researcher’s paper. The critique was accurate, important and measured — a service to his field. But it caused him problems: his adviser told him that publishing such criticism had crossed a line, and he should never do it again.

Scientists are very quick to say that science is self-correcting, but those who do the work behind this correction often get accused of damaging their field, or worse. My impression is that many error detectors are early-career researchers who stumble on mistakes made by eminent scientists, and naively think that they are helping by pointing out those problems — but, after doing so, are treated badly by the community.

Stories of scientists showing unwarranted hostility to error detectors are all too common. Yes, criticism, like science, should be done carefully, with due diligence and a sharp awareness of personal fallibility. Error detectors need to keep conversations focused on concrete facts, and should be open to benign explanations for apparent problems.

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Want to do better science? Admit you’re not objective – Nature (Angela Saini | March 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on March 19, 2020

When science is viewed in isolation from the past and politics, it’s easier for those with bad intentions to revive dangerous and discredited ideas.

One of the world’s leading universities — University College London (UCL) — has completed an inquiry into its support for the discredited pseudoscience of eugenics. Funds linked to Francis Galton, a racist who believed it was possible to improve the British population through selective breeding, and who founded the Eugenics Records Office at UCL in 1904, continue to line the university’s coffers to the value of more than £800,000 (US$1 million).

An important idea, which should inform practice – especially when we comment on social factors.

The inquiry’s report, released on 28 February, recommended renaming lecture theatres and buildings bearing Galton’s name and that of another prominent geneticist. Although this is welcome, it does not acknowledge just how much yesterday’s mistakes survive in modern science.

As I found while writing my 2019 book Superior: The Return of Race Science, geneticists today rightly treat eugenics as a laughable proposition, and the concept of biological race — the belief that humans can be subdivided into distinct groups with meaningful differences between them — as easily debunked nonsense. But this ignores how these ideas manifest in the real world. They can only be truly understood as age-old intellectual threads, embedded in politics as much now as ever.

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