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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Guest Post: Encouraging Data Sharing: A Small Investment for Large Potential Gain – Scholarly Kitchen (Rebecca Grant, et al | January 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on April 20, 2019
 

Data sharing is like maths at school.*

Bear with us.

It might seem harder than the other subjects. You might feel your teachers are not very good at explaining it. But if you do not pay attention, you will very quickly find that many real-world skills rely on maths; and you would have benefited from learning the basics as it provides a solid foundation for the rest of your adult life (whether your ambitions are to become an astronaut, a Grandmaster of chess, or simply to balance your personal expenses).

Likewise, data sharing and data management form the foundation of global academic collaboration, discovery and scientific advancement. Sadly, surveys show that academics rarely get formal training in good data management (let alone best practice), and data management is rarely incentivized by institutions. All too often even the basics are ignored, with data ending up languishing on a USB stick or on a paper notepad.

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(US) Safeguards for human studies can’t cope with big data – Nature (Nathaniel Raymond | April 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on April 19, 2019
 

Forty years on from a foundational report on how to protect people participating in research, cracks are showing, warns Nathaniel Raymond.

One of the primary documents aiming to protect human research participants was published in the US Federal Register 40 years ago this week. The Belmont Report was commissioned by Congress in the wake of the notorious Tuskegee syphilis study, in which researchers withheld treatment from African American men for years and observed how the disease caused blindness, heart disease, dementia and, in some cases, death.

This item obviously relates very specifically to the origins of the US human research ethics arrangements and the operation of IRBs, but the questions it poses are salient to Australasia.  The oft repeated statement: “But the information is already published and so is in the public domain and so is exempt”.  Is no longer helpful. We have provided a list of related items.

The Belmont Report lays out core principles now generally required for human research to be considered ethical. Although technically governing only US federally supported research, its influence reverberates across academia and industry globally. Before academics with US government funding can begin research involving humans, their institutional review boards (IRBs) must determine that the studies comply with regulation largely derived from a document that was written more than a decade before the World Wide Web and nearly a quarter of a century before Facebook.
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It is past time for a Belmont 2.0. We should not be asking those tasked with protecting human participants to single-handedly identify and contend with the implications of the digital revolution. Technological progress, including machine learning, data analytics and artificial intelligence, has altered the potential risks of research in ways that the authors of the first Belmont report could not have predicted. For example, Muslim cab drivers can be identified from patterns indicating that they stop to pray; the Ugandan government can try to identify gay men from their social-media habits; and researchers can monitor and influence individuals’ behaviour online without enrolling them in a study.
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We need to relearn how to play nice in peer review – UA/AU (Daniel Harris | March 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on April 16, 2019
 

By changing the way we discuss scholarly work, we will not only improve scholarship but also reduce the unnecessary hostility rampant in academia.

Academia has emerged as an unassuming minefield of mental health hazards. Examples from the scholarly and lay literatures detail rampant depression, anxiety and panic symptoms among academics, especially graduate students. A recent study of over 3,000 PhD students in Belgium revealed that 32 percent were at risk of having or developing a psychiatric disorder. It was also found that compared to a highly educated general population, PhD students had 3.5 times the risk of lost self-confidence and 3.4 times the risk of feeling worthless. Family-work conflicts and a culture of closed decision-making were among the strongest independent predictors of psychiatric distress among participants.

A recent example from the news media described “the silencing effect of academia” and the “need to be thick-skinned” to progress successfully as an academic. Despite the concerning severity and omnipresence of anxiety experienced by the author and the author’s peers, a culture of silence reigned. Nature also published a series of testimonials written by doctoral students and researchers describing their experiences with mental health and suggestions to drive culture change. Establishing support systems, broadening career prospects, and accessing professional mental health services, were among the many suggestions to remain resilient in a viciously competitive, and at times, distressingly lonely work environment. As a PhD student in epidemiology, my lay review of these articles forced me to consider my own journey as a researcher and graduate student in public health.

Like most graduate students, I suffer from imposter syndrome. As such, I obsess about the quality of my work – afraid, at best, to disappoint my department and mentor, and at worst, to have my name blacklisted among the community of public health researchers. While my obsessive tendencies are arguably adaptive, they nonetheless hinder my quality of life and have questionable long-term sustainability. Therefore, like the scientist I am, I went searching for possible etiological explanations for my worsening anxiety. Paradoxically, I discovered that I frequently contribute to the very academic culture causing my own mental health challenges: the unnecessary and unacademic belittling of peer-reviewed work.

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Duke University’s huge misconduct fine is a reminder to reward rigour – Nature (Arturo Casadevall | April 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on April 15, 2019
 

US$112.5-million settlement concerning fraudulent data is a casualty of a culture that prizes impact over robustness, says Arturo Casadevall.

Last week, Duke University announced it would pay the US government US$112.5 million to settle claims that fraudulent data were used in dozens of research-grant applications. This is a communal punishment for an institution where the overwhelming majority of scientists are honest, hard-working individuals seeking knowledge for the good of humanity.

The lesson is that scientific misconduct can carry severe institutional costs. (And scientific ones: more than a dozen papers connected to this case have been retracted.) Duke, in Durham, North Carolina, has promised to improve its practices and administration, including setting up an advisory panel on research integrity and excellence.

These steps are laudable. But I worry that the seeds of misconduct, although they grow in only a very few individuals, are planted in the very heart of academic biomedical sciences.

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