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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

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

 

Building beneficial relationships when conducting research with migrant communities0

 

In my experience, projects that involve working with migrant groups and communities reveal a range of complex issues with regards to ethics and the types of the relationships between the researcher and participants. While acknowledging the importance of formal ethical requirements I also believe that the concept of research ethics has a dynamic nature which means that many dilemmas that will emerge during the study will require an individual approach that does not necessarily fit into set rules. In this context, researchers working with migrant communities may need to think about how they can do this in a way that benefits both sides and reflects well the research situation. One of the dilemmas here is how to balance the pre-designed with the spontaneous elements of this kind of academic research project, thus avoiding an instrumental approach to gathering data that could lack sensitivity to participants’ needs and situations.

One of the ways of thinking about the research process in ethical terms is to approach it by focusing on the following key elements: characteristics of the researcher and his/her social background, characteristics of the researched community, research methods and settings, research aim and wider agenda. What I also found helpful from my experience of conducting small-scale community-based qualitative projects was defining them through the prism of building relationships between the researcher and the participants in which the purpose and boundaries are clearly identified at all stages. While the characteristics of the researcher and his/her social background play an important role in defining their position within the group and should be taken into account, it is also important to consider how s/he wants to define the roles of researched community and engage with the participants. Would the participants be treated as anonymous interviewees, or act as full collaborators? In case of collaboration will their time be acknowledged and/or compensated, and how? How will the benefits from participation be communicated to the community, before, during and after the study?

Thinking and defining participants’ roles within the study can also help to distinguish different levels of formalisations of relationships between the researcher and the participants, for example, in the situation when one collaborates with community leaders and activists (as well as thinking whether it would be useful/appropriate to use them at all). Other factors to consider when identifying types of relationships could refer to levels of vulnerability of the participants in relation to state policies, immigration status, and media attention and, subsequently, in relation to the aim, subject and scope of the conducted research and its place and connection to wider contexts and networks.

The ‘research process as relationships’ approach also helps to acknowledge the dynamic nature of established connections and perceive them as something that can change and continuously develop throughout the study. The level of closeness, trust and involvement can differ at various points of the study depending on the range of individual and social circumstances of all involved parties. If the project allows, spending more time within the community before, during and after the fieldwork and identifying modes of engagement with community at each stage can help to establish positive relationships and ensure that participants benefit from them as much as the researcher. Working within community-based/migrant contexts can require additional levels of flexibility and sensitivity towards people and their lives, their concerns, tensions, experiences and stories. Integrating these complexities into the research process in the way that would benefit all groups involved in the study is an important ethical task. So, one should think how the benefits from participation will be communicated to the community, will the participation be recognised and how, whether any events will be planned after the fieldwork and whether any further opportunities for contribution to the project will be created? Furthermore, the conditions of the study itself can have an impact on time required to establish positive relationships, such as, the location of the interview (at participants’ home, community centre, public space); whether any visual methods are used and which ones (participant or researcher generated photography); number of the interviews or focus-groups, whether additional methods such as observation are used; what and how to be recorded (audio or video); whether researcher approaches the whole families or specific family members; etc.

Certainly, each project has its own unique elements and conditions and there will always be aspects of the study that will only unfold during the fieldwork when researchers are actively engaged with the participants. At the same time, thinking of the value and impact of the study and how researcher-participant relationships can improve it should be as important as designing interview schedules, consent forms, and invitation letters.

Please see the detailed discussion on ethics and positionality when conducting research of migrants’ homemaking practices:

Pechurina, A. (2015) Material Culture, Migrations, and Identities. Chapter 3. Researching Russianness: A Discussion of Methods. London: Palgrave.

Pechurina, A. (2014) Positionality and Ethics in the Qualitative Research of Migrants’ Homes. Sociological Review Online. Vol (19) 1.

Contributor
Dr Anna Pechurina – Leeds Beckett University | Senior Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Social Sciences
Leeds Beckett profile: http://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/staff/dr-anna-pechurina/ Personal webpage: http://www.annapechurina.com/
A.Pechurina@leedsbeckett.ac.uk

This post may be cited as:
Pechurina A. (2017, 26 July) Building beneficial relationships when conducting research with migrant communities Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/building-beneficial-relationships-conducting-research-migrant-communities

Professional ethics0

 

As a follow up on Strategies for resolving ethically ambiguous scenarios last month below is a reprint of a discussion piece by AHRECS senior consultant Colin Thomson

In the first column in this series, the circumstances in which the ethics of health professionals emerge were identified as being a member of a profession and the context of health care. This third column examines the subject of professional ethics in more depth, focussing on matters that are generic to any health profession.

What is a profession?
Although there is no agreed definition, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission and the Australian Council of Professions have developed the following useful definition of this concept:

A disciplined group of individuals who adhere to high ethical standards and uphold themselves to, and are accepted by, the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised, organised body of learning derived from education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to exercise this knowledge and these skills in the interest of others.

Inherent in this definition is the concept that the responsibility for the health and welfare and safety of the community shall take precedence over other considerations (i).

This identifies the elements that distinguish the ethical character of the professional-patient/client relationship from other relationships. These are the special knowledge and skill of professionals and the exercise of these in the interest of others.

Special Knowledge and Skill
Because professionals have special knowledge and skill, their relationships with patients and clients have been assumed to be unequal: the professional has knowledge that the patient does not. In non-professional relationships, such an inequality can place the uninformed at risk of being influenced, persuaded or exploited. In such relationships, no clear ethical obligations apply to such use of a superior position, and although society recognises the risks of being “conned”, it does not impose ethical obligations. When there is sufficient harm, common law principles that protect against fraud or statutory rules about fair trading can apply. By contrast, professionals are required to use their superior knowledge and skill in accordance with ethical obligations.

In the interest of others
The key ethical obligation of professionals is to use their knowledge and skill in the interests of, or in the health sphere, for the benefit of others, namely their patients or clients. Where professionals use the superior position that their superior knowledge and skill gives them, for their own benefit, they are exposed to professional sanctions. Using a professional relationship for sexual gratification or financial gain unrelated to expert services are gross examples of such conduct and can lead to loss of professional credentials.

From beneficence to respect
The emergence of medicine as a distinct body of knowledge and skill was closely followed by early expressions of the ethics of health professionals, notably by Thomas Percival. Although the obligation to use that knowledge and skill for the benefit of patients was recognised, the benefits of medicine were not then well established. As these benefits increased, this ethical obligation increasingly emphasised the patient’s benefit, an expression of the ethical principle of beneficence or to act for the benefit of others. When this becomes the dominant motivation in a relationship it can become paternalism, as expressed in the aphorism “doctor knows best”.

In the last four decades, as the result of a complex interaction of social factors, the prominence of beneficence has gradually been replaced by the ethical principle respect for autonomy. Although this can be described as a reaction to the undue emphasis on beneficence that became paternalism, the causes are more complex. Nonetheless, respecting a patient’s capacity and entitlement to make decisions about their healthcare has become central to professional ethics in health care.

Respect and beneficence: professional “distance”
The rise of respect for autonomy can present health professionals with another tension: that between respect for a patient’s views and the compassionate desire to achieve a patient’s maximum welfare. In non-professional personal relations, personal attachment and love freely allows such a desire to be expressed. By contrast, expressing compassion can be difficult for professionals because of the detachment and structure required by their relationships with patients. We are free to say we love our friends and family and that love explains our devotion, but professionals are not similarly free and need to express their commitment and compassion through an ethical structure that can feel impersonal.

(i) http://www.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtm/itemId/277772 (accessed 10 December 2009

Republished with permission of the Australian Hospital & Healthcare Bulletin, http://www.hospitalhealth.com.au/subscribe

Contributor
Prof Colin Thomson is one of the Senior Consultants at AHRECS. You can view his biography here and contact him at colin.thomson@ahrecs.com

This post may be cited as:
Thomson C. (2017, 14 July) Professional ethics Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/professional-ethics

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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