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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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Highlight negative results to improve science – Nature (Devang Mehta | October 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on November 10, 2019
 

Publishers, reviewers and other members of the scientific community must fight science’s preference for positive results — for the benefit of all, says Devang Mehta.

Near the end of April, my colleagues and I published an unusual scientific paper — one reporting a failed experiment — in Genome Biology. Publishing my work in a well-regarded peer-reviewed journal should’ve been a joyous, celebratory event for a newly minted PhD holder like me. Instead, trying to navigate through three other journals and countless revisions before finding it a home at Genome Biology has revealed to me one of the worst aspects of science today: its toxic definitions of ‘success’.

Our work started as an attempt to use the much-hyped CRISPR gene-editing tool to make cassava (Manihot esculenta) resistant to an incredibly damaging viral disease, cassava mosaic disease. (Cassava is a tropical root crop that is a staple food for almost one billion people.) However, despite previous reports that CRISPR could provide viral immunity to plants by disrupting viral DNA, our experiments consistently showed the opposite result.

In fact, our paper also showed that using CRISPR as an ‘immune system’ in plants probably led to the evolution of viruses that were more resistant to CRISPR. And although this result was scientifically interesting, it wasn’t the ‘positive’ result that applied scientists like me are taught to value. I had set off on my PhD trying to engineer plants to be resistant to viral diseases, and instead, four years later, I had good news for only the virus.

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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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Where Research Meets Profits – Inside Higher Ed (Colleen Flaherty | October 2019)0

Posted by Admin in on November 6, 2019
 

Recent allegations of copyright violations against a professor who shared his own work on his website spark debate about ownership and whether peer reviewers should be paid.

Like many academics, William Cunningham, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, shares his own articles — published and soon-to-be — on his website. And like most academics, he does so in the interest of science, not personal profit.

So Cunningham and hundreds of his colleagues were recently irked by a takedown notice he received from the American Psychological Association, telling him that the articles he had published through the organization and then posted on his website were in violation of copyright law. The notice triggered a chain of responses — including a warning from his website platform, WordPress, that multiple such violations put the future of his entire website at risk. And because the APA had previously issued similar takedown notices, the threat of losing his website seemed real to Cunningham.

In response, psychologists started a petition to the APA, saying that if it didn’t stop policing authors’ personal websites for the sharing of science, then it needed to pay peer reviewers $300 for each article review.

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