ACN - 101321555 Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

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Research Ethics MonthlyISSN 2206-2483

Research Integrity

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

How can we get mentors and trainees talking about ethical challenges?0

 

When it comes to research integrity, the international community often tends to focus on the incidence of research misconduct and the presumption that the remedy is to have more training in responsible conduct of research. Unfortunately, published evidence largely argues that these perceptions are demonstrably wrong. Specifically, formal training in courses and workshops is much less likely to be a factor in researcher behavior than what is observed and learned in the context of the research environment (Whitbeck, 2001; Faden et al., 2002; Kalichman, 2014).

These research findings should not be surprising. Most of an academic or research career is defined by actually conducting research and working with research colleagues. The idea that a single course or workshop will somehow insulate a researcher from unethical or questionable behavior, or arm them with the skills to deal with such behavior, would seem to be a hard case to make. That isn’t to say that there is no value in such training, but the possible impact is likely far less than what is conveyed by the research experience itself. With that in mind, the question is how, if at all, can research mentors be encouraged to integrate ethical discussions and reflections into the context of the day-to-day research experience?

With this as a challenge, we have been testing several approaches at UC San Diego in California to move conversations about RCR out of the classroom and into the research environment. With support from the US National Science Foundation, this project began with a 3-day conference comprised of ~20 leaders in the field of research integrity (Plemmons and Kalichman, 2017). Our goal was to develop a curriculum for a workshop in which participating faculty would acquire tools and resources to incorporate RCR conversations into the fabric of the research environment. Based on consensus from the conference participants, a curriculum was drafted, refined with input from experts and potential users, and finalized for pilot testing. Following two successful workshops for faculty at UC San Diego, the curriculum was rolled out for further testing nationally with interested faculty.

The focus of the workshop curriculum was five strategies participating faculty might use with members of their research groups. These included discussions revolving around (1) a relevant professional code of conduct, (2) creation of a checklist of things to be covered at specified times with all trainees, (3) real or fictional research cases defined by ethical challenges, (4) creation of individual development plans defining roles and responsibilities of the mentor and trainees, and (5) developing a group policy regarding definitions, roles, and responsibilities with respect to some dimension of practice particularly relevant to the research group. In all cases, the goal is to create opportunities that will make conversations about the responsible conduct of research an intentional part of the normal research environment.

The results of this project were encouraging, but still leave much to be done (Kalichman and Plemmons, 2017). Workshops were provided for over 90 faculty, who were strongly complimentary of the program and the approach. In surveys of the faculty and their trainees after the workshops, there were high levels of agreement that the five proposed strategies were feasible, relevant, and effective. However, while use of all five strategies was high post-workshop, we surprisingly found that trainees reported high levels of use pre-workshop as well. In retrospect, this should have been expected. Since workshops were voluntary, it is likely that faculty who attended were largely those already positively disposed to discussing responsible conduct with their trainees. One question worth asking is whether repeating workshops for interested faculty only will have a cascading effect over time, drawing in increasing numbers of faculty and serving to shift the culture. Also, it remains to be tested whether these workshops would be useful if faculty were required to attend.

For those interested in implementing these workshops in their own institutions, the curriculum, template examples and an instructor’s guide are all available on the Resources for Research Ethics Education website at: http://research-ethics.org/educational-settings/research-context.

References

Faden RR, Klag MJ, Kass NE, Krag SS (2002): On the Importance of Research Ethics and Mentoring. American Journal of Bioethics 4(2): 50-51.

Kalichman M (2014): A Modest Proposal to Move RCR Education Out of the Classroom and into Research. J Microbiol Biol Educ. 15(2):93–95.

Kalichman MW, Plemmons DK (2017): Intervention to Promote Responsible Conduct of Research Mentoring. Science and Engineering Ethics. doi: 10.1007/s11948-017-9929-8. [Epub ahead of print]

Plemmons DK, Kalichman MW (2017): Mentoring for Responsible Research: The Creation of a Curriculum for Faculty to Teach RCR in the Research Environment. doi: 10.1007/s11948-017-9897-z. [Epub ahead of print]

Whitbeck C (2001): Group mentoring to foster the responsible conduct of research. Science and Engineering Ethics 7(4):541-58.

Contributors
Michael Kalichman – Director, Research Ethics Program, UC San Diego | University biomkalichman@ucsd.edu

Dena Plemmons | University of California, Riverside | University page

This post may be cited as:
Kalichman M. and Plemmons D. (2017, 21 December 2017) How can we get mentors and trainees talking about ethical challenges? Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/can-get-mentors-trainees-talking-ethical-challenges

In a world of hijacked, clone and zombie publishing, where shouldn’t I publish?3

 

When we talk to research higher degree candidates and early career researchers about publication ethics, one question comes up repeatedly. Indeed, it is a question we are frequently asked by experienced researchers, particularly those who wish to publish in a new field – where should I publish? That’s a difficult question to answer in the abstract so first we would like to remove some distractions from the decisions that need to be made. In this piece, we look at the other side of the coin and explore where researchers should not publish.

Research institutions often provide their staff with incentives to publish in top-ranking journals as determined by impact factor. Publishing in these journals can boost the university’s standing in some international rankings and national research assessment exercises. Consequently, performance indicators, promotion and recruitment criteria, track records for grant assessment and even financial bonuses may be aligned with these outlets.

Good research takes a long time and we should take care where we place our outputs. If we want our papers to be read, we need to look for a journal that reaches our prospective audience. In some fields, this might mean a niche but highly rated journal linked to a particular professional association; in other cases, we seek a journal that is covered by reputable indexes and databases like Medline, PubMed, Scopus or the Web of Science. Only then would a paper be included by subsequent systematic review or meta-analysis, for example.

However, many researchers may find it tough to break into the top 25%, let alone the top 10% of journals. Even if they can, the process can prove lengthy and frustrating as journals use robust peer review processes and may call for repeated and extensive and perhaps even unwarranted revisions. In the face of this, some scholars may come under pressure to publish quickly, particularly if the award of a doctorate or confirmation of the first job is dependent on having something in print. And, for some purposes (including Australian institutional block research funding until quite recently), quantity may trump quality.

There are traps for the unwary who find themselves in this position. Everyone wants to avoid predatory journals and publishers and, yet, not everyone does. Not even some top researchers manage to avoid these outlets according to one study of academic economists (Wallace and Perri, 2016). Researchers, it seems, can be seduced by an invitation from journal editors, an invitation sometimes filled with ‘flattering salutations, claims that they had read the recipient’s papers despite being out of the journals claimed area of study, awkward sentence structure and spelling mistakes, and extremely general topics’ (Moher and Srivastava, 2015).

While many researchers have been duped, publication scammers are not always given a free ride. A few have come under some pressure from legal authorities. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a brief in the US District Court against the OMICS Group and related entities. The brief reveals a little about what is known about these journals. OMICS, for instance, is a Nevada-registered, Hyderabad-based entity that claims to run 700 journals. The FTC alleged that OMICS deliberately misled potential authors by misrepresenting the composition of the editorial board, the process of review, the journal’s impact factor and the fee for publication:

…the academic experts identified by Defendants lack any connection with Defendants’ journals. Further, in many instances, articles submitted for publishing do not undergo standard peer review before publishing. And Defendants’ journals’ impact factors are not calculated by Thomson Reuters, nor are their journals included in PubMed Central. Moreover, Defendants fail to disclose, or disclose adequately, that consumers must pay a publishing fee for each published article. (p.5)

Recently, OMICS has diversified its strategy. In 2016, Canadian journalists reported OMICS had bought at least the trading name of reputable Canadian publishers and appeared to have also picked up their publishing contracts with well-regarded journals. This, it seems, was done so that OMICS could use these names as a front to attract articles to its predatory publishing stable (Puzic, 2016). Some professional associations who found their publishing contracts taken over have declared their intention to break their connection to OMICS.

When assessing which journals to target for your work, you might:

  1. Read recent issues of the journal. Are the papers of a quality you would cite? Can you find evidence of good editorial standards? Would your work fit among the papers published there? What, Macquarie University counsels its staff to consider, is its relevance, reputation, visibility and validity?
  2. Check the standing of the publication’s editors. Are they members of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) or, if their journals are online, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers’ Association (OASPA); predatory publishers are less likely to be members. COPE has also created the Check.Submit.campaign to support authors’ decision-making.
  3. Talk to a research librarian, your peers and mentors about the potential publisher. If you know anyone who is on the Editorial Advisory Board, ask them about the journal at the same time that you seek to establish whether whether the journal might be interested in your work. Some leading academics have found their names on Editorial Advisory Boards of predatory journals and have discovered that it is easier to join these lists than have their name removed.
  4. Read the publisher’s policies and editorial review practices. Are they coherent, do they provide detailed information on submission guidelines and peer review processes? If they guarantee a speedy turnaround, that is often a warning sign. Check whether they impose ‘article processing charges’ (APCs). Then, check again.

Reach out to researchers that have previously been published there to discuss their experiences and impressions.

Not every legitimate journal can extract itself from predatory publishers. Where once respected journals are hijacked by criminal enterprises, they can continue their existence as ‘zombie journals’, trading off the reputation built up in the past but behaving like any other predatory journal. There are other kinds of dishonest practices. Some predatory publishers have established ‘clone journals’ who use the same title as a legitimate journal and reproduce the original journal’s website or make minor changes to the title in an attempt to deceive unwary authors (Prasad, 2017). Hijacked, clone and zombie publishing can turn a glowing recommendation into a trap for the unwitting. Analysis of criminal activities in publishing has taken a little time to catch up with offending patterns. In recent work, Moher and Shamseer (2017) argued that the term predatory journal should be replaced by ‘illegitimate entities’, refuting the idea that such entities were entitled to clothe themselves in the language of the legitimate publication industry.

So, what advice should we give to researchers about being prudent with the treasured fruit of their labours? Until recently, one quick answer might have been to avoid journals on Beall’s List, a list of ‘predatory journals’ that Jeffrey Beall, a US-based librarian, had placed on a ‘blacklist’. The list always had its critics (Naylon, 2017). Variables used by Beall such as open access, fees to publish, locations in low- to medium-income countries, and novel peer review practices are not automatically predictors of a predatory publisher. Nor does the converse necessarily guarantee a publisher is a safe choice. However, whatever its longstanding flaws, Beall’s List is rapidly losing its currency. Earlier this year Beall decided to ‘unpublish’ his list; the list is no longer updated and is only available on cache sites. Institutions seeking a successor to Beall’s List can look towards a commercial provider, Cabells, which has announced its own Blacklist. Anyone using a blacklist should also check journals against a ‘white list’ like the Directory of Open Access Journals or even the old Excellence in Research Australia journal rankings (removed from the research council websites, but still circulated discreetly like a samizdat newsletter among Australian academics).

Unfortunately, unless black and white lists are updated continuously, they can never keep up with changes in the publication industry. Some publishers once regarded as predatory genuinely improve their practices over time. On the other hand, illegitimate practices have also changed over time. Over the last few years, we have seen the movement of organised and unorganised crime into the industry, attracted by the roughly US$100m in fees that Shamseer et al. (2017) estimated (very roughly) that predatory publishers might be obtaining.

So, the quick answer to the question ‘where shouldn’t I publish?’ is that since the demise of Beall’s List, researchers need to engage in critical enquiry and reflection about a potential publisher. This should not come as a shock – the same advice would have been true long before the end of Beall’s List.

In recent weeks, we’ve been including in the Resource Library discussion pieces, papers and strategies that propose how to assess publishers.

These include:

Not the ‘Beall’ and end-all: the death of the blacklist, AOAG Webinar Series (Dr Andy Pleffer & Susan Shrubb | April 2017)

Beyond Beall’s List: Better understanding predatory publishers, Association of College & Research Libraries (Monica Berger and Jill Cirasella | March 2015)

Black lists, white lists and the evidence: exploring the features of ‘predatory’ journals, BioMed Central Blog (David Moher & Larissa Shamseer | March 2017)

Warning: conmen and shameless scholars operate in this area. Times Higher Education (James McCrostie | January 2017)

Blacklists are technically infeasible, practically unreliable and unethical. Period. – LSE Blog (Cameron Neylon | January 2017)

Beware! Academics are getting reeled in by scam journals – UA/AU (Alex Gillis | January 2017)

References

Moher, D. and Shamseer, L. (2017) Black lists, white lists and the evidence: exploring the features of ‘predatory’ journals. BioMed Central Blog 16 Mar 2017. https://blogs.biomedcentral.com/bmcblog/2017/03/16/black-lists-white-lists-and-the-evidence-exploring-the-features-of-predatory-journals/

Moher, D. and Srivastava, A. (2015) You are invited to submit…. BMC Medicine, 13(1), p.180. https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-015-0423-3

Neylon C. (2017) Blacklists are technically infeasible, practically unreliable and unethical. Period. LSE Blog. https://cameronneylon.net/blog/blacklists-are-technically-infeasible-practically-unreliable-and-unethical-period/

Prasad, R. (2017) Predatory journal clones of Current Science spring up. The Hindu, 14 July. http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/predatory-journal-clones-of-current-science-spring-up/article19277858.ece

Puzic, S. (2016) Offshore firm accused of publishing junk science takes over Canadian journals. CTV News. 28 September. http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/health-headlines/offshore-firm-accused-of-publishing-junk-science-takes-over-canadian-journals-1.3093472?hootPostID=00bc7834da5380548a8b2d58e40c8b29

Shamseer, L, Moher, D., Maduekwe, O., Turner, L., Barbour, V., Burch, R., Clark, J., Galipeau, J., Roberts J. and Shea, B.J. (2017) Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison. BMC Medicine 15:28. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0785-9

Wallace, F. and Perri, T. (2016) Economists behaving badly: publications in predatory journals. MPRA Paper No. 73075, posted 15 August. https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/73075/1/MPRA_paper_73075.pdf

Contributors
Prof. Mark Israel, senior consultant AHRECS, Mark’s AHRECS bio – mark.israel@ahrecs.com
Dr Gary Allen, senior consultant AHRECS, Gary’s AHRECS bio – gary.allen@ahrecs.com

This post may be cited as:
Israel M & Allen G. (2017, 26 July) In a world of hijacked, clone and zombie publishing, where shouldn’t I publish? Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/world-hijacked-clone-zombie-publishing-shouldnt-publish

PID Power: Persistent Identifiers as Part of a Trusted Information Infrastructure0

 

We live in a world where fake news and alternative facts are, unfortunately, part of how we share information. Expertise is becoming less valued and, in some cases, is even seen as a liability. In this environment, how do we engender trust in scholarly communications?

Developing a strong and sustainable information infrastructure, which enables reliable connections between researchers, their contributions, and their organizations, is critical to building this trust. Many of the pieces we require are already in place, but work is still needed to ensure that they operate the way we need them to, and that all sectors – funders, publishers, and universities, as well as vendors and other third parties – understand the vital role each plays.

Persistent identifiers (PIDs) play an important part in making the research infrastructure work, and doing so in a transparent way, which builds trust.  Wikipedia describes persistent identifiers as: “a long-lasting reference to a document, file, web page, or other object … usually used in the context of digital objects that are accessible over the Internet. Typically, such an identifier is not only persistent but actionable … you can plug it into a web browser and be taken to the identified source.”

In the scholarly communications world, PIDs enable clear identification of and reliable connections between people (researchers), places (their organizations), and things (their research contributions and works). Examples of PIDs in common use in research and scholarship include ORCID iDs, ResearcherID, and Scopus IDs for people; GRID, Ringgold, and Crossref Funder Registry IDs for organizations; and DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers) such as those minted by Crossref and DataCite for publications and datasets.

So, how exactly can PIDs help build trust in the research infrastructure – and the scholarship supported by that infrastructure?

Tackling the problem of fake reviews and reviewers is a good example of the power of persistent identifiers in practice. While the vast majority of reviews and reviewers are legitimate, unfortunately some individuals and organizations deliberately attempt to manipulate the system to their own, or their client’s, advantage. Industry organizations such as COPE – the Committee on Publication Ethics – recognize that this as an issue and it’s also found its way into mainstream media, where it’s often seen as more ‘evidence’ that science isn’t working.

But imagine a world where all research institutions routinely connect their organization ID to their researchers’ ORCID records and, at the same time, assert their affiliation. That institutional validation makes information about those researchers significantly more trustworthy.

And now imagine a world where researchers routinely use their ORCID iD during the manuscript submission/review process. Where publishers routinely include those iDs in the metadata for DOIs for the papers/open peer review reports authored by those researchers. And where that information is automatically pushed back into the author’s ORCID record, for example by Crossref or DataCite. Those trusted connections (assertions)  between each researcher and her/his publications and reviews could help editors and publishers build up an authoritative picture of each researcher, creating an even higher level of confidence that they are who they say they are. Adding in information from funders about the reviewer’s awards would add an even higher level of certainty. Taken together, the use of PIDs in this way could be a powerful tool in combatting the fake author and reviewer problem.

This scenario clearly shows that tackling the issue of trust in scholarly communication requires a community approach.. Each sector plays a role: institutions connect and assert affiliations to ORCID records; publishers connect and assert works; funders connect assert awards; and PID organizations including Crossref, DataCIte, and ORCID provide the “plumbing” that enables those assertions and connections to be made, easily and reliably.

Of course, researchers themselves also need to be involved in improving trust in scholarly communications. Using PIDs is a good (and easy!) first step – the technology is already in place across hundreds of systems that researchers interact with.  So, for example, researchers who use their ORCID iD when publishing or reviewing a paper, can authorize Crossref or DataCite to automatically update their ORCID record every time a DOI for one of their works is minted (provided that their publisher includes the iD in the metadata). Likewise some funders are already collecting ORCID iDs during grant application and then connecting information about awards granted back to the applicant’s ORCID record. And, in an exciting new opportunity, it’s now possible for researchers to sign into ORCID using their institutional credentials and, at the same time, grant their university permission to update their ORCID record, including asserting their affiliation. Vendor systems across all sectors – grant application, manuscript submission, CRIS systems, and more – are supporting all these efforts.

As Simon Porter of Digital Science pointed out in his keynote at PIDapalooza 2016, the challenges of achieving this goal are at least as much social as technical. Understanding why PIDs are important is every bit as critical as implementing them in researcher systems. So, if you’d like to  play your own part in making  our vision of a trustworthy PID-enabled research infrastructure a reality, please help us spread the word about the power of PIDs in your own organizations!

Contributor
Alice Meadows | Director of Community Engagement & Support, ORCID
Alice’s ORCID staff page and Alice’s LinkedIn page
a.meadows@orcid.org

This post may be cited as:
Meadows A. (2017, 27 July) PID Power: Persistent Identifiers as Part of a Trusted Information Infrastructure Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/pid-power-persistent-identifiers-part-trusted-information-infrastructure

 

Strategies for resolving ethically ambiguous scenarios2

 

During the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014, I traveled to numerous universities across the United States and England to conduct in-depth interviews with physicists as part of the Ethics among Scientists in International Context Study, a project led by my colleague Elaine Howard Ecklund at Rice University(1). The study sought to find out how physicists approach ethical issues related to research integrity in their day-to-day work.

My colleagues and I began our interviews with a relatively straightforward question: “What does it mean to you to be a responsible scientist in your role as a researcher?” For many scientists, responsibility in research is a relatively black and white question: don’t falsify, don’t fabricate, and don’t plagiarize. And if one looks to the literature, scholarship and policy also tend to focus on these black and white instances of misbehavior because they are unambiguous and deserving of stern sanctions.

As our research unfolded, Ecklund and I began to question whether a black and white view of misconduct is overly simplistic. From a sociological perspective, whether scientists reach consensus about the meaning of unethical conduct in science is debatable because the same behavior in a given circumstance may be open to different ethical interpretations based on the statuses of the stakeholders involved and the intended and actual outcomes of the behavior. Our research ultimately demonstrated that the line separating legitimate and illegitimate behavior in science tends to be gray, rather than black and white—a concept we refer to as ethical ambiguity.

For the purpose of illustration, consider a scenario in which a scientist receives funding for one project and then uses a portion of that money to support a graduate student on a study unrelated to the grant. Many scientists would view this practice as a black and white instance of unethical conduct. But some scientists we interviewed view this an ethically gray scenario, indicating that the use of funds for reasons other than specified in a grant is justifiable if it means supporting the careers of their students or keeping their lab afloat. In these and other circumstances, scientists cope with ambiguity through decisions that emphasize being good over the “right” way of doing things.

What strategies help resolve these and other ethically ambiguous scenarios?

Frameworks for ethical decision-making offer some, but in my view limited, help. Kantian deontological theories assert that one should follow a priori moral imperatives related to duty or obligation. A deontologist would argue, for example, that a scientist has an obligation to acknowledge the origins of her work. And policies regarding plagiarism have a law-like quality. But how far back in the literature should one cite prior work? Deontology does not help us much in this example. Another framework, consequentialism, would suggest that in an ethically ambiguous scenario, a scientist should select the action that has the best outcomes for the most people. But like other individuals, scientists are limited in their ability to weigh the outcomes of their actions (particularly as it relates to the long-term implications of scientific research).

One ethical decision-making framework, virtue ethics, does offer some help in resolving ambiguity. Virtue ethics recognizes that ethical decision-making requires consideration of circumstances, situational factors, and one’s motivations and reasons for choosing an action, not just the action itself. It poses the question, “what is the ethically good action a practically wise person would take in this circumstance?” For individual scientists, this may require consulting with senior and trusted colleagues to think through such circumstances is always a valuable practice.

A pre-emptive strategy for helping scientists resolve ethically ambiguous scenarios is to create cultures in which ambiguity can be recognized and discussed. For their part, the physicists we spoke with do not view ethics training as an effective way to create such a culture. As one physicist we spoke with explained, “It’s the easy thing to say, oh make a course on it. Taking a physics course doesn’t make me a good physicist. Taking a safety course doesn’t make me safe. Taking an ethics course doesn’t make me ethical.”

There may be merit to this physicist’s point. Nevertheless, junior scientists must learn—likely through the watching, talking, and teaching that accompanies research within a lab—that the ethical questions that scientists encounter are more likely to involve ambiguous scenarios where the appropriate action is unclear than scenarios related to fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. __

Contributor
David R. Johnson, a sociologist, is an assistant professor of higher education the University of Nevada, Reno, in the United States. His first book, A Fractured Profession: Commercialism and Conflict in Academic Science, is published by Johns Hopkins University Press.
davidrjohnson@unr.edu

This post may be cited as:
Johnson D. (2017, 21 June) Strategies for resolving ethically ambiguous scenarios Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/strategies-resolving-ethically-ambiguous-scenarios

(1) (National Science Foundation grant # 1237737, Elaine Howard Ecklund PI, Kirstin RW Matthews and Steven Lewis, Co-PIs)

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