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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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Venice ‘time machine’ project suspended amid data row – Nature (Davide Castelvecchi Davide Castelvecchi | October 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on November 2, 2019
 

Disagreements among international partners leave plans to digitize the Italian city’s history in limbo.

Like the city itself, an ambitious effort to digitize ten centuries’ worth of documents that record the history of Venice is at risk of sinking. Two key partners have suspended the Venice Time Machine project after reaching an impasse over issues surrounding open data and methodology. The State Archive of Venice and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) say they have had to pause data collection, and the archive’s director has raised questions about the usability of the 8 terabytes of information that have already been collected.

A useful illustration of the value of early discussions about data management and about ensuring that metadata is considered as well.

The project sought to digitize documents that stretch over 80 kilometres of shelves in the state archive. These record the minutiae of the city’s administration — from financial transactions to citizens’ addresses and family connections — during its heyday in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as a republic that for centuries dominated trade in the eastern Mediterranean. Many are written in Latin or the Venetian dialect, and have never been read by modern historians.
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The goal was to make this information freely available online to researchers worldwide. The project also aimed to push the state-of-the-art in text-recognition technology for handwritten documents, using machine learning to automatically read millions of pages and tag their contents so that historians could perform quick searches.
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