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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Friday afternoon’s funny – PI Action figure0

Posted by Admin in on March 20, 2020

Cartoon by Don Mayne
Full-size image for printing (right mouse click and save file)

Sometimes the different roles and special skills we demand of investigators do seem apt for an action figure from the 1980s.

Want to do better science? Admit you’re not objective – Nature (Angela Saini | March 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on March 19, 2020

When science is viewed in isolation from the past and politics, it’s easier for those with bad intentions to revive dangerous and discredited ideas.

One of the world’s leading universities — University College London (UCL) — has completed an inquiry into its support for the discredited pseudoscience of eugenics. Funds linked to Francis Galton, a racist who believed it was possible to improve the British population through selective breeding, and who founded the Eugenics Records Office at UCL in 1904, continue to line the university’s coffers to the value of more than £800,000 (US$1 million).

An important idea, which should inform practice – especially when we comment on social factors.

The inquiry’s report, released on 28 February, recommended renaming lecture theatres and buildings bearing Galton’s name and that of another prominent geneticist. Although this is welcome, it does not acknowledge just how much yesterday’s mistakes survive in modern science.

As I found while writing my 2019 book Superior: The Return of Race Science, geneticists today rightly treat eugenics as a laughable proposition, and the concept of biological race — the belief that humans can be subdivided into distinct groups with meaningful differences between them — as easily debunked nonsense. But this ignores how these ideas manifest in the real world. They can only be truly understood as age-old intellectual threads, embedded in politics as much now as ever.

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Hundreds of scientists have peer-reviewed for predatory journals – Nature (Richard Van Noorden | March 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on March 18, 2020

Many of these titles have some editorial oversight — but the quality of reviews is in question.

Hundreds of scientists who post their peer-review activity on the website Publons say they’ve reviewed papers for journals termed ‘predatory’ — although they might not know it. An analysis of the site has found that it hosts at least 6,000 records of reviews for more than 1,000 predatory journals. The researchers who review most for these titles tend to be young, inexperienced and affiliated with institutions in low-income nations in Africa and the Middle East, according to the study, posted to the bioRxiv preprint server on 11 March.

Given how the junk science pollutes the literature and places people at risk, any behaviour that props up questionable publishers is a concern.  We have linked to 11 related items.

The study is the largest yet to examine claims that scientists review for predatory journals. A popular conception of these journals is that they generally publish any manuscript they’re offered for a fee and don’t offer peer review. In fact, journals can be defined as predatory while providing peer review, because they might be deceptive in other ways. But the peer review that these journals conduct might not be to the standard most researchers recognize, says Matt Hodgkinson, head of research integrity at the publisher Hindawi in London. “They are likely going through the motions and using these reviewers as a fig leaf,” he says.

The reviews, if genuine, might be “a waste of valuable time and effort” by researchers, the study says. Its authors suggest that funders and research institutions should warn against reviewing for predatory titles.

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A controlled trial for reproducibility – Nature (Marc P. Raphael, et al | March 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on March 16, 2020

For three years, part of DARPA has funded two teams for each project: one for research and one for reproducibility. The investment is paying off.

In 2016, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) told eight research groups that their proposals had made it through the review gauntlet and would soon get a few million dollars from its Biological Technologies Office (BTO). Along with congratulations, the teams received a reminder that their award came with an unusual requirement — an independent shadow team of scientists tasked with reproducing their results.

If you want to do important research well, this is a great approach.  IF you could find someone to fund it.

Thus began an intense, multi-year controlled trial in reproducibility. Each shadow team consists of three to five researchers, who visit the ‘performer’ team’s laboratory and often host visits themselves. Between 3% and 8% of the programme’s total funds go to this independent validation and verification (IV&V) work. But DARPA has the flexibility and resources for such herculean efforts to assess essential techniques. In one unusual instance, an IV&V laboratory needed a sophisticated US$200,000 microscopy and microfluidic set-up to make an accurate assessment.

These costs are high, but we think they are an essential investment to avoid wasting taxpayers’ money and to advance fundamental research towards beneficial applications. Here, we outline what we’ve learnt from implementing this programme, and how it could be applied more broadly.

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