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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Peer Review Week: Should we use double blind peer review? The evidence… – (Bob O’H: September 2016)0

Posted by Admin in on November 7, 2016

This week is Peer Review Week, the slightly more popular academic celebration than pier review week. Peer review is an essential part of scientific publication and is – like Churchill’s democracy – the worst system to do it. Except for all of the others. The reason it’s imperfect is mainly that it’s done by people, so there is a natural desire to try to improve it.

One suggestion for improvement is to us double blind reviews. At the moment most journals (including Methods in Ecology and Evolution) use single blind reviewing, where the author isn’t told the identity of the reviewers. The obvious question is whether double blind reviewing does actually improve reviews: does it reduce bias, or improve quality? There have been several studies in several disciplines which have looked at this and related questions. After having looked at them, my summary is that double blind reviewing is fairly popular, but makes little or no difference to the quality of the reviews, and reviewers can often identify the authors of the papers.

Does Double Blind Reviewing Improve Review Quality?

I found 13 studies about this (some with replies and re-analyses). Overall, there is little effect of double blinding on quality: in some studies the recommendations to the editor were more negative (i.e. more likely to recommend rejection or major revisions), but of the five studies that looked at quality (mostly by judgment of authors or editors), three found no effect, ad the other two found opposite effects – one with double-blinding higher, one with it lower.

Read the rest of this discussion piece

Review finds misconduct in events surrounding WHO fetal growth study – Science (Kai Kupferschmidt | October 2016)0

Posted by Admin in on October 30, 2016

For the first time in its 68-year history, the World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that researchers are guilty of research misconduct. An independent review commissioned by WHO has found that “research ethics misconduct occurred” in a multimillion-dollar global study on fetal growth led by researchers at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. WHO has referred the finding, which it did not explain in detail, to the U.K. General Medical Council (GMC), it announced Thursday.

It is unclear whether GMC has opened an investigation. The body is legally obliged to look at any concerns that are referred to it, a spokesperson told ScienceInsider, but she could not comment on the specific case.

The allegations—first reported by Science last month—date back to late 2006. Then, researchers at WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research in Geneva, Switzerland, were working on developing a study to determine global standards to assess whether a fetus is on a healthy growth trajectory. Oxford researchers José Villar and Stephen Kennedy participated as external experts. In 2007, Kennedy signed a contract for Villar to develop a key protocol for the study. But in March 2008, the two Oxford researchers secured a $29 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a similar study. Members of the WHO group say that the Oxford duo used ideas developed in the WHO project in their competing grant proposal; some accuse them of deliberately delaying their WHO work while they were courting the Gates Foundation.

Read the rest of this news item

Psst…did you hear? The effect of gossip on misconduct – Retraction Watch (Alison McCook: October 2016)0

Posted by Admin in on October 22, 2016

If scientists are hesitant to formally report their colleagues when they suspect them of misconduct, can simply gossiping about their concerns in informal settings – at meetings, conferences, etc – clean up the literature? That’s a question Brandon Vaidyanathan and his colleagues tried to answer in “Gossip as Social Control: Informal Sanctions on Ethical Violations in Scientific Workplaces,” published last month in Social Problems. We spoke with Vaidyanathan, now the director of research at The H.E. Butt Family Foundation and Public Policy Fellow at the University of Notre Dame, about how scientists use gossip to warn others of potential misconduct – and whether it works.

Retraction Watch: What prompted you to discuss the role gossip can play in scientific misconduct?

Brandon Vaidyanathan: We didn’t set out to study gossip initially. It emerged unexpectedly as a theme during our interviews with scientists across national contexts, when we asked them about their encounters with misconduct.

Read the rest of this interview
View a Resource Library link to Brandon Vaidyanathan’s paper

Gossip as Social Control: Informal Sanctions on Ethical Violations in Scientific Workplaces (Papers: Brandon Vaidyanathan September 2016)EH0

Posted by Admin in on October 22, 2016

The described phenomena might be a part of peer-based social control, but it also might be a recognition of the problems of whistleblowing.

Abstract: Research on misconduct in science has largely focused on egregious violations such as fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. Recent scholarship, however, calls for greater attention to forms of everyday misconduct and how scientists navigate ethical ambiguity when they are unable or unwilling to make formal accusations. Drawing on interview data from 251 physicists and biologists from both elite and non-elite universities and research institutes in the United States, United Kingdom, and India, we find that scientists are often reticent or unable to take formal action against many behaviors they perceive as unethical and irresponsible. As a result, they resort to informal gossip to warn colleagues of transgressors. Many express confidence that such pro-social gossip can serve as a means of social control by tarnishing the reputations of transgressors. Yet its effectiveness as a form of social control is limited, particularly when transgressors enjoy higher status than gossipers. We identify two types and three consequences of such gossip and assess the effectiveness of gossip as a means of social control. Finally, we consider the implications of our study for understanding and decreasing misconduct in science.

Keywords: Gossip; Misconduct; Science; Scientists; Ethics

Vaidyanathan B, Khalsa S and Ecklund EH  (2016) Gossip as Social Control: Informal Sanctions on Ethical Violations in Scientific Workplaces
Social Problems DOI: 10.1093/socpro/spw022

Read Retraction Watch’s interview with Brandon Vaidyanathan about this work