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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

We’re Incentivizing Bad Science – Scientific American (James Zimring | October 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on November 11, 2019
 

Current research trends resemble the early 21st century’s financial bubble

Whatever you might want to say about humans, our behavior is profoundly affected by the incentive structures we encounter. Imagine what might happen if banks that issued home loans no longer made money off the interest, but rather made money by blending the loans into investment bonds that they then sold to investors. There are a limited number of people fortunate enough to afford a home. Once all those people had mortgages, the banks would then become a mortgage-backed–security factory that had run out of raw materials to make its product.

The banks could simply stop making money—or they could start making loans to anyone who applied, regardless of people’s ability to pay. After all, once the loans were sold to investors, the risk was no longer the bank’s. Of course, the rating agencies are designed to alert us to risk, but they get paid to do so by the banks, and angering your only customer base is not good business. Prior to 2008, without the intention of doing so, the system had evolved such that the bankers were specifically incentivized to inflate a massive bubble in the economy, built upon bad loans and unsustainable debt, and make a fortune doing it at no risk to themselves—and this is precisely what they did.

So, let’s imagine what might happen if the rules of professional science evolved such that scientists were incentivized to publish as many papers as they could and if those who published many papers of poor scientific rigor were rewarded over those who published fewer papers of higher rigor? What would happen if scientists weren’t rewarded for the long-term reproducibility and rigor of their findings, but rather became a factory that produced and published highly exciting and innovative new discoveries, and then other scientists and companies spent resources on the follow up studies and took all the risk?

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Ethical research — the long and bumpy road from shirked to shared – Nature (Sarah Franklin | October 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on November 10, 2019
 

From all too scarce, to professionalized, the ethics of research is now everybody’s business, argues Sarah Franklin in the sixth essay in a series on how the past 150 years have shaped science, marking Nature’s anniversary.

In the autumn of 1869, Charles Darwin was hard at work revising the fifth edition of On The Origin of Species and drafting his next book, The Descent of Man, to be published in 1871. As he finished chapters, Darwin sent them to his daughter, Henrietta, to edit — hoping she could help to head off the hostile responses to his debut, including objections to the implication that morality and ethics could have no basis in nature, because nature had no purpose.

That same year, Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton published Hereditary Genius, a book that recast natural selection as a question of social planning1. Galton argued that human abilities were differentially inherited, and introduced a statistical methodology to aid “improvement of the race”. Later, he coined the term ‘eugenics’ to advocate selective reproduction through application of the breeder’s guiding hand.

Darwin’s transformative theory inspired modern biology; Galton’s attempt to equate selection and social reform spawned eugenics. The ethical dilemmas engendered by these two late-nineteenth-century visions of biological control proliferate still. And, as older quandaries die out, they are replaced by more vigorous descendants. That there has never been a border between ethics and biology remains as apparent today as it was 150 years ago. The difference is that many of the issues, such as the remodelling of future generations or the surveillance of personal data, have become as everyday as they are vast in their implications. To work out how to move forward, it is worth looking at how we got here.

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Turning the tables: A university league-table based on quality not quantity (Papers: Adrian G. Barnett & David Moher | July 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on November 8, 2019
 

Abstract

Background:
Universities closely watch international league tables because these tables influence governments, donors and students. Achieving a high ranking in a table, or an annual rise in ranking, allows universities to promote their achievements using an externally validated measure. However, league tables predominantly reward measures of research output, such as publications and citations, and may therefore be promoting poor research practices by encouraging the “publish or perish” mentality.

Methods:
We examined whether a league table could be created based on good research practice. We rewarded researchers who cited a reporting guideline, which help researchers report their research completely, accurately and transparently, and were created to reduce the waste of poorly described research. We used the EQUATOR guidelines, which means our tables are mostly relevant to health and medical research. We used Scopus to identify the citations.

Results:
Our cross-sectional tables for the years 2016 and 2017 included 14,408 papers with 47,876 author affiliations. We ranked universities and included a bootstrap measure of uncertainty. We clustered universities in five similar groups in an effort to avoid over-interpreting small differences in ranks.

Conclusions:
We believe there is merit in considering more socially responsible criteria for ranking universities, and this could encourage better research practice internationally if such tables become as valued as the current quantity-focused tables.

Keywords
meta-research, research quality, research reporting, league tables

Barnett, A.G. and Moher D. Turning the tables: A university league-table based on quality not quantity [version 2; peer review: 2 approved]. F1000Research 2019, 8:583 (https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.18453.2)
Publisher (Open Access): https://f1000research.com/articles/8-583/v2

South Korea clamps down on academics attending ‘weak’ conferences – Nature (Mark Zastrow | November 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on November 7, 2019
 

A new policy will attempt to stop researchers travelling to meetings with little academic value.

South Korea’s education ministry wants to stop academics from participating in conferences that it considers “weak” and of little academic value. The ministry announced on 17 October that it will require all universities to adopt measures to vet academics’ travel to overseas conferences so as to “prevent researchers from engaging in poor academic activities”.

We applaud South Korea for this move.  We have seen reference to decidedly questionable events cropping up in the grant peer review processes we participate in. This adds further. to the work of panels and could seriously corrupt processes that are essential to good/safe practice and the prudent use of tax-payer monies.

The ministry’s order comes after a report that it released in May which found that 574 professors from 90 universities around the country had participated in conferences that it called “weak”.
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It is thought that some researchers knowingly elect to pay the fees to attend conferences of little value, or publish in low quality journals1 — some of which are considered ‘predatory’ — because they are a quick and easy way to add a publication or presentation to their CVs, or gain experience in presenting at international conferences.
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Changgu Lee, a materials scientist at Sungkyunkwan University in Suwon, welcomes the oversight from the education authority. “Those who have lots of research money and want to have a vacation in a nice place without being bothered by academic responsibility attend those conferences,” he says.

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