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The grey zone: How questionable research practices are blurring the boundary between science and misconduct – Times Higher Education (Nick Butler: October 2016 )0

Posted by Admin in on December 26, 2016
 

Infamous cases of misconduct such as that of Paolo Macchiarini are just the extremes on a long spectrum of dubious research practices, say Nick Butler, Helen Delaney and Sverre Spoelstra

Earlier this year, Paolo Macchiarini – former star surgeon and professor at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute – was dismissed from his post following a high-profile investigation prompted by a documentary broadcast on Swedish national television. Macchiarini was found guilty of failing to secure ethical approval for experimental transplant techniques and misrepresenting data in journal publications. The scandal continues to resonate throughout the scientific community and has so far led to the resignation of the vice-chancellor of Sweden’s most prestigious medical university and the secretary general of the Nobel Prize committee, among others.

Such egregious breaches of scientific protocol are serious, but mercifully rare. Far more prevalent – and therefore even more damaging – are research practices that fall into an ethical “grey zone” between overt misconduct and scholarly best practice. Academic misconduct refers to forms of fabrication, falsification and plagiarism (FFP) – in other words, the terrain of fraudsters, con artists and cheats. Questionable research practices (QRPs), however, are more difficult to pin down but typically involve misrepresentation, inaccuracy or bias. Recent research suggests that academics are becoming more adept at employing QRPs that skirt around the edges of misconduct, like athletes who optimise their performance with artificial enhancements without technically breaking the rules. To put it into perspective, one study found that only 2 per cent of scientists admit to FFP, while almost a third admit to engaging in QRPs.

One prominent example of a QRP is “HARKing”, standing for “hypothesising after the results are known”. Normally, researchers follow the standard scientific practice of developing a hypothesis and then testing it against the facts. But HARKing involves constructing or changing a hypothesis after the data have been collected and analysed. If this is concealed from journal editors, the integrity of the scientific process is compromised. Yet, strictly speaking, HARKing

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Why is so much research dodgy? Blame the Research Excellence Framework – The Guardian (Alex Jones and Andrew Kemp: October 2016)0

Posted by Admin in on December 24, 2016
 

The study of psychology is facing a crisis. A lot of research doesn’t show the same results when the experiment is repeated, and it is critical we address this problem. But the Research Excellence Framework has led to a research culture which is suffocating attempts to stabilise psychology in particular, and science in general.

The Ref encourages universities to push for groundbreaking, novel, and exciting research in the form of 4* papers, but it does not reward the efforts of those who replicate studies. As universities gear up for the next Ref submission in 2021, many researchers will not even consider attempts to replicate results.

False information
The point of replicating a study is to test whether a statistically significant result will appear again if the experiment is repeated. Of course, a similar result may not appear – casting into question the validity of the results from the first experiment.

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Spam me once, shame on you. (Academic) spam me 3000 times…? – Retraction Watch (Alison McCook | December 2016)0

Posted by Admin in on December 23, 2016
 

One of the drawbacks of having any kind of digital presence relating to research is the ensuing avalanche into your in-tray of offers from academic publications who are desparate to publish your sage utterances sight unseen. As my grandma used to say if it sounds too good to be true it is almost certainly not true

Every year, academics get thousands of spam emails inviting them to submit manuscripts or attend conferences — but don’t bother asking to “unsubscribe” for Christmas.
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Spoiler alert, for those of you planning to read the rest of this post: It doesn’t make much of a difference.
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That’s according to the conclusions of a study published in one of our favorite issues of the BMJ — the Christmas issue. After a group of five self-described “intrepid academics” tried to unsubscribe from the 300+ spam invitations they received on average each month, the volume decreased by only 19% after one year.
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Also read this paper about trying to unsubscribe from spam lists

I was assaulted while researching, but was too scared to speak out – The Guardian (Academics Anonymous | December 2016)0

Posted by Admin in on December 20, 2016
 

While in the early stages of my PhD fieldwork, I was sexually assaulted by a member of the community where I was conducting my work. I had just met this man while making contacts to do my research, and thought he seemed friendly. He took advantage of my vulnerability as a lone female student, and when we next met, he pursued me after I made clear I was not interested. I struggled against him until he decided I was not worth the trouble, and resorted to calling me a lesbian. He let me go – but not before reminding me that he knew where I was staying.

I did not have a full sense of how alone I was until this happened. I was in a remote town, thousands of miles and several days from home. It does not matter exactly where; it could have been anywhere. I had good working relationships there, but I did not know where to turn.

Shortly after it happened, a neighbour told me that this man had a history of violence and was someone to avoid. I was afraid that saying anything to anyone would escalate the situation and spell the end of my research. Besides, everything I’d been taught about fieldwork – that it should be tough and I’d better know how to handle myself – told me to forget it had ever happened. I felt ashamed.

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